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India Should Say No to Blood Diamonds

Published in: Deccan Chronicle

India's new role as a global leader at the United Nations Security Council faces a critical test this week on the issue of "blood diamonds". The term refers to diamonds mined under conditions of gross human rights abuse, and was popularised by the American movie, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a mercenary turned do-gooder in the blood-soaked diamond fields of Sierra Leone.

Today the blood diamond controversy has moved to Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe keeps himself in abusive power with the proceeds from huge new fields in Marange, in the eastern part of the country. The Zimbabwean Army killed hundreds of people in its takeover of the fields two years ago, and diamond proceeds continue to enrich one of the longest-serving tyrants on the African continent.

This week the international blood diamond monitoring body, known as the Kimberley Process and set up under UN auspices to stop the trade in such gems, will hold its semi-annual meeting in Jerusalem. India, with its enormous diamond processing industry, is an important member. The Zimbabwe issue has dominated its agenda for the last two years and will continue to hold centrestage next week.

The Kimberley Process has suspended diamond trading out of Marange for the last year, after its own investigators confirmed the corruption, smuggling, and abusive military control of the fields. The conclusions of a second investigation are likely to be hotly contested in Jerusalem next week, and may even be suppressed by the Zimbabwean delegation and its allies.

But India must not be one of Zimbabwe's allies in Jerusalem. Indian diamond barons, the Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing India Ltd (SRDSIL), has announced plans to buy $100 million worth of Zimbabwean diamonds every month. The minister of mines of Zimbabwe, Obert Mpofu, was warmly welcomed in Mumbai recently, and it's clear that the Indian cutting and polishing industry sees the potentially mammoth Marange fields as a crucial source of supply in coming years.

But the Kimberley Process has only allowed Zimbabwe to auction two lots of diamonds this year; further sales are conditioned on measurable progress in ending smuggling and human rights abuses. Regrettably, there has been no meaningful progress. Diamonds out of Marange are still under an international ban.

Members of the Kimberley Process may be divided over that ban but many governments, diamond industry representatives, and civil society activists who are Kimberley members want to see it continued. Mr Mugabe's political party was forced to share power with the Opposition after elections two years ago, but his architecture of repression remains in place. Journalists and opposition activists are routinely arrested and often tortured in prison. Although violence in the diamond fields of Marange has decreased, the Army continues to intimidate and coerce the local population into digging for gems.

When the Kimberley Process last met in June, a Zimbabwean researcher and expert on the shady deals underway in Marange, was prevented from attending the meeting because he had just been thrown in prison. Mines minister Mpofu, now a great friend of the Surat diamond industry, insisted to Human Rights Watch that the researcher was guilty of serious crimes; an absurd charge, considering New Delhi's own mature response to dissident speeches in New Delhi recently.

However, in Zimbabwe, after months of campaigning, Farai Maguwu, has only just been released. Indian delegates will meet Mr Maguwu in Jerusalem this week. Will they be able to back a business deals with officials of a regime that throws people like him in prison without cause?

At the United Nations last month, India promised to position itself "in the mainstream" on issues of human rights at the Security Council. It will have the opportunity in Jerusalem to speak out for human rights and protect the long-term credibility of the Kimberley Process.

Meenakshi Ganguly is  South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch

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