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(Tel Aviv) - The government of Zimbabwe has broken its promises under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) work plan to improve abusive practices in its diamond fields and should formally be suspended from the Kimberley Process, Human Rights Watch said in a 16-page report released today.

Participants in the Kimberley Process - governments, the diamond industry, and civil society groups that seek to eradicate the trade in blood diamonds - are meeting June 21 to 23, 2010, in Israel, which chairs the group this year. The ongoing human rights violations in and around Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields should be at the top of their agenda, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Kimberley Process risks total irrelevance if it ignores these ongoing abuses," said Rona Peligal, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "If the Kimberley Process can't take real action on an issue like Zimbabwe, then what is it good for?"

Human Rights Watch has received new reports that soldiers in Marange are engaging in forced labor, torture, beatings, and harassment. Human Rights Watch documented rampant killings and other abuses in Marange last year. Despite these ongoing abuses, Abbey Chikane, the South African monitor appointed by the Kimberley Process to investigate conditions in the area, has recommended allowing diamond sales from Marange to resume.

As Zimbabwe recovers from a man-made humanitarian crisis, diamond revenues could provide the country with resources for improved education, health, and nutrition, among other basic needs. In its research, Human Rights Watch found that there is so little proper regulation of diamond mining that vast sums are leaving the country unaccounted for. The country's finance minister, Tendai Biti, said in March that no revenue from Marange diamonds had yet reached state coffers. With an intensified military presence, diamond smuggling may actually have increased, benefitting only an elite few in the party of President Robert Mugabe, ZANU-PF, and its allies.

At its plenary meeting in November 2009 in Swakopmund, Namibia, Kimberley Process members, rather than suspend Zimbabwe, called for the country to adhere to a work plan that Zimbabwe itself had proposed. The plan commits the country to a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the diamond fields (but without specific time lines), directs police to provide security for the area, and provides for a monitor, agreed to by both Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process, to examine and certify that all shipments of diamonds from Marange meet Kimberley Process standards.

Since November, the Zimbabwe government has allocated a small portion of the Marange diamond fields to two private firms with close links to high-ranking members of the armed forces and ZANU-PF. Large parts of the Marange area remain under direct military control.

Chikane has made two visits to Zimbabwe. His latest visit, in May, was marked by controversy. While he was there, Zimbabwean intelligence officials raided the Mutare office of a leading civil society organization, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), two days after the group's leader, Farai Maguwu, met with Chikane and discussed confidential information about the Zimbabwean armed forces' continued presence in Marange.

Police beat up, arrested, and detained members of Maguwu's family. Facing threats to himself and his family, Maguwu felt forced to turn himself in to the police. He is in jail, though he was not charged within the legally required 48 hours, and his family is in hiding, as are staff members of his organization. Chikane said that some of his notes were seized by intelligence agents from his bags but he has neither called for an investigation nor publicly condemned the jailing of Maguwu.

"If Zimbabwe is jailing activists for writing about abuses connected to diamond mining, then it is hardly meeting the minimum standards for Kimberley Process membership," Peligal said. "In addition, the chaos - and allegations - surrounding Chikane's visit and his approach call into question the credibility, professionalism, and integrity of his work."

Chikane's preliminary report, issued on March 21, following a visit that month, focused largely on the narrow technical aspects of diamond mining and played down the abuses in Marange. Although killings by Zimbabwean state agents are fewer in the area compared with the height of military repression in October 2008, local residents told Human Rights Watch that there are new abuses and that they live in fear of the army.

As one community leader told Human Rights Watch, "Soldiers routinely force us to mine for diamonds; if anyone refuses they are tortured. Life in Marange is hell."

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on Kimberley Process members to demand an end to human rights violations and smuggling in Marange and to insist on transparency and accountability within Zimbabwe's diamond industry. The organization has also urged the global group to recognize human rights issues explicitly as a fundamental element of its mandate and raison d'être.

A member of the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy, who was barred from visiting the area despite having the official responsibility to do so, told Human Rights Watch, "Our natural resources in Marange are being looted on a massive scale daily. And yet government turns a blind eye and pretends all is well, and wishes for the KPCS and the world to believe all is well in Marange."

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