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(Washington, DC) - The decision on June 23, 2011, to allow exports from Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields goes against the very spirit and purpose of the Kimberley Process, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments and companies should repudiate the decision and refuse Zimbabwean diamonds until participants in the Kimberley Process (KP) can make a clear decision about the export of these diamonds.

Mathieu Yamba, chairman of the Kimberly Process, made the decision unilaterally. It allows the exports without any monitoring for human rights abuses or evidence that Zimbabwe is complying with the KP standards.

"Miners, retailers, and consumers have relied on the Kimberley Process to stop blood diamonds from being sold, but with Chairman Yamba's decision, the KP has betrayed their trust," said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "Governments and companies should ignore his decision unless they want to make blood diamonds available to consumers and ruin the credibility of the Kimberley Process as well."

Diamond exports from Marange have been suspended since June 2009 because of police and military abuses in the minefields. These included killings, beatings, and forced labor and rampant smuggling of diamonds in contravention of Kimberley's rules. In November 2009, the government of Zimbabwe and the KP agreed to a joint work plan, in which Zimbabwe promised to carry out a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the diamond fields, and to allow a monitor to examine all shipments of diamonds from Marange and to certify that they meet KP standards.

Zimbabwe failed to curtail the abuses, though, and did not comply with the KP rules. The KP had been deadlocked for almost a year because some member governments wanted to allow Zimbabwe to export Marange diamonds anyway. Yamba unilaterally abandoned previous requirements that Zimbabwe be monitored for human rights and authorized exports of Marange diamonds without any monitoring mechanism to prevent abuses.

Civil society groups walked out of the Kimberley meeting that concluded on June 23 in Kinshasa and condemned the decision. The United States, European Union, Israel, and Canada also criticized the decision because it did not follow the KP procedures for approval by consensus. The US urged the continued suspension of Marange diamonds until the problem was resolved. Industry associations such as the World Diamond Council also urged their members to avoid diamonds from Marange until the KP could reach consensus decision. 

The dispute highlighted the failure of the consensus-based decision-making process to address government noncompliance, Human Rights Watch said. The members have not been able to reach consensus to revise the KP rules to explicitly prohibit the sale of diamonds by governments that committed abuses to obtain them.
Under the rules, a conflict diamond is narrowly defined as one sold by a rebel group to wage war against a government. That definition has left a major loophole since it does not prevent a government like Zimbabwe's from committing abuses when it mines or sells diamonds. The KP did put a monitoring process in place for Zimbabwe, but the chairman abandoned that process in his most recent ruling.

Human Rights Watch urged the KP governments to suspend diamond sales from Marange until the dispute is resolved, asked retailers to explicitly refuse Marange diamonds, and urged consumers to ask retailers whether Marange diamonds are sold in those stores.

"The KP desperately needed to reform to ban the sale of all blood diamonds, not just some," Ganesan said. "But the chairman chose profits over rights and might have ruined the KP in the process. Consumers aren't going to care whether it is blood shed by governments or rebels since the diamonds are tainted either way."

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