(Johannesburg) – Zimbabwe police and private security guards employed by mining companies in the Marange diamond fields are shooting, beating and unleashing attack dogs on poor, local unlicensed miners.
The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch contradicts claims that areas controlled by private mining companies, instead of by the Zimbabwe government alone, are relatively free of abuses.
Over the past six months, police and private security personnel have attempted to clear the fields of local miners whom they accuse of illegally mining diamonds. Human Rights Watch research found that in many cases, the police and private security guards used excessive force against the miners. The violence follows claims, in June, by the government and the head of an international industry monitoring body that conditions in the Marange fields are sufficient for it to be allowed to resume exports of diamonds from Marange.
“Shooting defenseless miners and unleashing dogs against them is inhuman, degrading and barbaric,” said Tiseke Kasambala, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The diamonds from the Marange fields are tainted with abuse.”
Local civil society activists told Human Rights Watch that the government has granted six international mining companies concessions in the Marange fields. The companies’ private security guards carry out joint patrols of the mining areas with Zimbabwe police. Local miners said that most of the companies have built electric fences around their mining concessions, while security guards with dogs regularly patrol the concessions. However, local miners are still able to reach the fields and sometimes stray into areas under the companies’ control.
Some members of the international diamond monitoring body, known as the Kimberley Process, have tried to argue that conditions in the areas controlled by joint ventures are not abusive, and that those diamonds should be certified and allowed onto international markets. But Human Rights Watch has found, on the contrary, evidence of serious abuse by private security guards patrolling the joint venture territory.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 10 miners in Mutare and towns close to the Marange diamond fields who had been beaten by guards and attacked by their dogs after being caught by mine security in the past six months. During patrols, police would also fire live ammunition at the miners as they fled, the miners said.
“I was attacked by all of them,” one of the miners told Human Rights Watch. “The dogs were biting me and I was screaming. It was terrible.”
Medical personnel who treated the miners at neighboring clinics and the main provincial hospital confirmed that they had treated wounded miners. An official at a local clinic told Human Rights Watch that he had treated between 15 and 20 victims of dog attacks a month since April, many with serious wounds. Clinic officers also reported seeing people with gunshot wounds, including people who had been shot in the head.
Many of the miners were reluctant to report the incidents to the police, miners and local activists said, as they were afraid of being arrested for digging in the fields because they were unlicensed. The government has conducted no investigations into these abuses.
The Ministry of Mines and Development, other relevant Zimbabwe authorities, and the mining industry in Marange need to take immediate measures to stop these abuses and ensure accountability for abuses by members of the police force and the private security guards, Human Rights Watch said. At a minimum, the companies should follow internationally recognized standards on security, such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, investigate any allegations of abuse, and urge investigations of those acts.
Human Rights Watch urged the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP), an international body that oversees the diamond trade, to suspend all exports of diamonds from the Marange fields and asked retailers to refuse explicitly to buy Marange diamonds. The KP has not adequately addressed the abuses in Marange.
“The ongoing abuses at Marange underscore the need for the Kimberley Process to address human rights instead of capitulating to abusive governments and irresponsible companies,” Kasambala said.
On June 23, Mathieu Yamba, the KP chairman, announced that he had made a unilateral decision to lift the KP ban on exports of diamonds from the Marange fields. He took the decision even though independent monitoring, including the organization’s own investigation, had confirmed serious human rights abuses and rampant smuggling at the Marange fields. This decision, if implemented, would mean that the export of Marange diamonds is now permitted, without any monitoring for human rights abuses or credible evidence that Zimbabwe is complying with the Kimberley Process standards.
However, the Kimberley Process operates by consensus, and members such as the European Union, the United States, Israel and Canada criticized Yamba’s position. Others, such as South Africa, supported it. As a result, the organization remains deadlocked over whether to allow exports of diamonds from Marange.
“The Kimberley Process appears to have lost touch with its mission to ensure that blood diamonds don’t make their way to consumers,” Kasambala said. “By ignoring the serious abuses taking place in Marange, it is losing credibility as a global diamond regulating body and risks misleading consumers too.”
Abuses by Police and Security Guards
Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 miners in July, 2011, who were mauled by dogs and beaten by private security guards. They reported that the majority of incidents involved security guards working for Mbada Mining, a South African and Zimbabwean owned joint venture. The guards were identifiable by their black uniform. One miner said: “The Mbada guards are the worst. They don’t hesitate to set the dogs upon you and they also beat you up.” Human Rights Watch was unable to interview Mbada Mining officials during the mission, because they were not reachable by phone.
In one incident, private security guards working for Mbada set four dogs on a handcuffed artisanal miner caught digging for diamonds close to the fields mined by Mbada. “I was attacked by all of them,” said the man, who is in his 20s. “The dogs were biting me and I was screaming. It was terrible.”
A clinical officer in the town close to the fields told Human Rights Watch: “We have so many people coming to the clinic with dog attacks. It’s easy to tell they’ve been bitten by dogs. You see the marks. During the week we treat around five or more miners with dog bites. They tell us that private security guards are the ones who set the dogs upon them. They say that it’s guards working for Mbada.”
Human Rights Watch’s research found that in many cases dogs were used not just to restrain the victims, but apparently deliberately to inflict as much injury as possible. One miner told Human Rights Watch that security guards would shout at the dogs to “attack” even if the miners had surrendered or stopped running.
A provincial hospital clinical officer told Human Rights Watch that he had seen at least 15 victims of dog attacks since April. In one case, the victim died from his injuries. Local miners and civil society activists reported that the numbers of dog attack victims could be much higher, but that the majority of the victims chose not to go to the hospital to receive treatment as hospitals often required a police report. Most victims preferred to recover at home without medical treatment, increasing the risk that their wounds would become infected.
Local civil society activists reported that police often carry out joint operations with private security guards in advance of visits to the fields by senior government officials or foreign delegations. For example, police and private security guards carried out operations to clear the fields of diggers in advance of visits to the fields by President Robert Mugabe in March and delegates from the African Diamond Producers Association in April. Some of the worst incidents occurred in the days before these visits.
A clinical officer at the main provincial hospital told Human Rights Watch:
“From March to June we have had many people coming to the hospital with gunshot wounds. They get shot at. Some of them have head injuries, some shot in the legs, arms, shoulders. We have one man who is in a coma. He was shot in the head about three weeks ago. There were four of them who were shot but one of them was serious because of the head injury. He was brought in by the police from Chiadzwa. They didn’t explain who he was.”
A local clinical officer described a joint operation between the police and private security guards to drive away miners in late May and early June. He told Human Rights Watch:
On the day they started the operation a lot of guys were bitten by dogs and a few came to the clinic for treatment. Three came on one day. The guys came with wounds similar to tears – not just teeth punctures. The injuries showed that the dogs were tearing the flesh and not just biting to restrain the miners. Such wounds are difficult to treat. I also treated three guys who were shot by the police. They were shot from the back and behind their legs. We tried to operate on them but their injuries were serious and we transferred them to the provincial hospital.
Blessing G., 21
There were six of us who went to mine in the fields. We were digging in the bush when we were caught by these private guards led by a white man. They had four dogs. One of the guards had a gun. When they saw us they released the dogs. I tried to run away and fell. My friends escaped. Three dogs attacked me. One caught me on the leg and the other one on my hand. The other dog bit me on the stomach. I lay on the ground still begging them to call the dogs off. After two or so minutes, it felt like a long time they called off the dogs and told me, “We don’t want people like you mining illegally for the diamonds.” I couldn’t walk for several days because of my injuries.
James T., 27
I was busy digging for the diamonds next to the Mbada area when I heard a shout, “Catch.” The guards were with a white man. There were four dogs and I was attacked by all of them. The dogs were biting me and I was screaming. One of the guards came, pulled off the dogs and then handcuffed me and then he shouted, “Attack” and the dogs came back and started biting me as I lay on the ground. It was terrible. After a few more minutes they grabbed the dogs off and marched me to their diamond base where they bandaged my wounds and then drove me out of the fields. I didn’t go for further treatment. I just went home.
Peter N., 20
During one operation we were caught by private security guards and police. There were many of us. The guards had dogs but they also had teargas, which they threw at us. We started running, and then they let the dogs loose. Many of us were bitten on that day. They had many dogs. The guards were wearing dark uniforms. The police were also there and they had guns. At some point they started shooting. I kept running but when the police started shooting I stopped and surrendered. That’s when the dogs came and started biting me. I know that some of the others were shot by the police because I saw them fall. I don’t know if anyone died.
Richard L., 22
I haven’t gone back since I was bitten by the dogs and hit by the guards. It was around May and there were around 10 or 15 of us. We were working in a syndicate with the soldiers and they had told us which area to dig for the diamonds. Suddenly we heard shouting and the security guards came running after us. They were not armed. They shouted at the dogs, “Attack” and then we all started running. I was caught by one dog. I don’t know how many dogs they were. The dogs bit me on the legs and stomach. Afterward some of the guards came and started kicking us saying we should learn not to dig for diamonds in that area. The Mbada guards are the worst. They don’t hesitate to set the dogs upon you and they also beat you up. I didn’t go to the hospital I just went home and healed by myself.
Fambai K., 30
Going into the fields is dangerous for us these days. The soldiers are better because we now work with them. But the security guards all have dogs and they work with the police. I was attacked by dogs in June. As you can see my wounds are still fresh. I don’t know who the security guards belonged to but they wore a black uniform. Some say they are Mbada but I don’t know. The first dog caught my leg and I fell. Then the guards came and started hitting me. They were kicking and punching me. Then another dog attacked me. I was trying to hold its mouth. It went on for a few minutes and when they saw I was bleeding they took me to a place called diamond base. They stitched me up there then handed me to the police.