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(Washington, DC) – Members of the international diamond monitoring body known as the Kimberley Process (KP) should press Zimbabwe to address human rights abuses in its diamond fields. They should also reform the KP certification scheme to address human rights violations. The Kimberley Process, which is currently chaired by the United States, will meet in Washington, DC from June 4 to 7, 2012 for its annual meeting to discuss the mining and trading of conflict diamonds.

Serious abuses in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields in recent years have exposed the KP’s inability effectively to address human rights violations by government security forces related to diamond mining, Human Rights Watch said. Despite initially suspending diamond sales from Zimbabwe, the Kimberley Process allowed exports of those diamonds in November 2011, a step that led one of the KP’s founders, Global Witness, to withdraw from the initiative.

“The Kimberly Process needs to address the ongoing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s Marange fields, and the lack of transparency by mining companies operating there,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The KP meeting should demand more tangible progress from Zimbabwe and focus on reforming its certification scheme so that it can tackle the human rights problems that taint diamond production.”

Human Rights Watch’s research in the Marange area indicates that while human rights violations by the Zimbabwean military in the diamond fields are not as severe as they were in 2008, abuses persist. There are significant concerns about the conduct of police and private security forces employed by companies operating in the area, and the failure of the authorities to hold to account members of the military, police and private security companies responsible for serious abuses. In addition, more transparency is needed on diamond production, revenue and the allocation of mining rights, Human Rights Watch said.

Members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme have sought to justify increased exports from Zimbabwe to international marketsby contendingthat conditions in the areas controlled by joint ventures are not problematic. But in August 2011  Human Rights Watch found evidence of serious abuses by police and private security guards patrolling the joint venture territory, including setting dogs on traditional artisanal miners in the mining areas and using excessive force to clear the fields of local miners whom they accuse of illegally mining diamonds. To date, no steps have been taken to address these problems.

Human Rights Watch also remains concerned by the continued presence of the Zimbabwean army, which was responsible for the killing of 200 local miners in 2008, in parts of the Marange fields . One of the agreements between the Kimberley Process and the government of Zimbabwe was that the fields would be demilitarized.

On June 23, 2011, Mathieu Yamba, the KP chairman, announced his unilateral decision to lift the Kimberley ban on exports of diamonds from the Marange fields. He took the decision even though independent monitoring, including the KP’s own investigation, had confirmed serious human rights abuses and rampant smuggling at the Marange fields. This decision meant that the export of Marange diamonds was now permitted without any monitoring for human rights abuses or credible evidence that Zimbabwe is complying with KP standards.  In November 2011 the Kimberly Process effectively endorsed that step by authorizing limited sales of diamonds from Zimbabwe.

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 the police and 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.

“Zimbabwe’s government has failed to meet its obligations to stop abuses in Marange and ensure that crimes committed there are prosecuted,” Bekele said. “The mining companies also need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Human Rights Watch also called on KP members to commit to essential reforms to the Kimberley Process so that it explicitly incorporates human rights to prevent “blood diamonds” and other stones tainted by human rights abuse from reaching consumers.  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 current 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. This loophole needs to be closed to protect the viability of the Kimberley Process, Human Rights Watch said.

The ongoing human rights concerns in the Marange diamond mines are amplified by concerns over the broader human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said. Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement, which established a power-sharing government in 2009, contains specific measures to promote freedom of speech and the rule of law, end politically motivated violence, and apply national laws fully and impartially to hold those responsible for abuses to account.

While the country’s economic situation has significantly improved in the past few years, there has been little progress on promised human rights reforms or respect for the rule of law. A human rights commission that was set up three years ago still does not have a statute that would allow it to become operational, and state institutions such as the Office of the Attorney General and the police force remain highly partisan. Human rights defenders and other critics of the government continue to be arbitrarily arrested and detained and otherwise harassed.

The party of President Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has been the main obstacle to real progress in carrying out these reforms and ending human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

The US government has waived a travel ban on two Zimbabwean officials, Obert Mpofu, the Minister of Mines, and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, to allow them to attend the KP meeting in Washington. The US and European Union should maintain travel restrictions as well as asset freezes on Mugabe and his inner circle until Zimbabwe carries out concrete human rights and institutional reforms ahead of national elections, Human Rights Watch said.

On June 1, the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) called on Zimbabwe’s government to implement reforms and finalize the new constitution prior to holding elections.

“SADC’s emphasis on the need for key reforms before elections hits the right note,” Bekele said. “KP members should also press for fundamental human rights reforms to be implemented before rewarding Zimbabwe’s government.”  

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