Monday, May 25, 2009

Zimbabwe: Time to ban Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds

By Michael Deibert - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

Amid allegations of human rights abuses and government corruption, international calls are growing to ban or restrict the trade in diamonds from politically unstable Zimbabwe.

Concern has focused on the eastern province of Manicaland, home to the vast Marange diamond fields in the district of Chiadzwa.

In early April, the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), which seeks to organise world diamond exchanges under a common set of trading practices, announced that it was advising its 28 affiliated trading houses to ‘‘take all measures necessary to ensure that they do not trade, directly or indirectly, in diamonds originating from the Marange deposit in Zimbabwe’’.

‘‘We want to insure, because we represent accountability, integrity and transparency, that we take all measures to ensure our members can conduct business in the most responsible way possible,’’ Michael H Vaughan, WFBD’s Executive Director, told IPS about the decision.

The WFDB’s move comes on the heels of a report by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), an Ottawa-based group that advocates on foreign policy issues, that was highly critical of the government of President Robert Mugabe in its governance of the Zimbabwe’s diamond reserves.

The March 2009 report, ‘‘Zimbabwe, Diamonds and the Wrong Side of History’’, concluded that the country was ‘‘no longer able to manage its diamond industry in a way that is consistent with respect for human rights’’.

The South Africa-originated De Beers diamond company previously held prospecting rights over the Marange fields from the early 1980s until 2006, at which point exploration rights were assumed by African Consolidated Resources, a British-registered company.

That year, Zimbabwean authorities seized control of the mines and evicted all company personnel from the site, a situation that remains until today despite African Consolidated Resources having won a court case in Zimbabwe to regain control of the mines.

With informal mining having becoming widespread at the site since 2006 Mugabe’s cousin, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, led a military incursion into Marange in October 2008 to reassert government control, an assault that reportedly killed scores of people .

The diamond fields are now said to bear all the hallmarks of a military garrison, with mining conducted by soldiers and local villagers forced to mine on the army’s behalf.

Before the assault on Marange, Shiri was perhaps best known as commander of Zimbabwe’s now-defunct North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade which, between 1983 and 1984, pursued a scorched-earth campaign throughout the region of Matabeleland.

At the time, the region was a centre of support for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union political party, a chief rival of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (known by the acronym ZANU-PF).

A 1997 report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe concluded that it was ‘‘indisputable that thousands of unarmed civilians died, were beaten, or suffered loss of property’’ during the attacks in the mid-1980s in what became known as the Gukurahundi.

Shiri has been banned from entering the European Union since 2002.

Regarding Marange, Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner with Global Witness says that ‘‘the reports that have been coming out have been very concerning, including the use of quite widespread violence on the part of the authorities. We are very concerned about what’s been going on.’’ London-based Global Witness seeks to demonstrate how natural resources are used to fund conflict.

The PAC and Global Witness have called on the Kimberley Process -- the three part certification scheme designed to ensure that diamonds are accompanied by a certificate proving origin -- to expel Zimbabwe from its diamond certification scheme.

Though a Kimberley Process review team flew over the Marange area in May 2007 and concluded that little mining was taking place at the site, the body’s relative inactivity with regards to Zimbabwe has attracted substantial criticism in recent months.

‘‘The Kimberley Process has consistently stumbled over the last three or four years when it came to controversial issues,’’ argues Ian Smillie, the PAC’s Kimberley Process expert. ‘‘(They) seem unwilling to confront any kind of controversy, and would rather pretend that everything is okay until it turns into a major media event.’’

Critics have also charged that Bernhard Esau, the Namibian deputy minister of mines who currently serves as chairperson of the Kimberley Process’ rotating secretariat, met only with government officials during a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in March 2009 and made no attempt to speak with anyone in the country who could reasonably be expected to have an independent view of mining conditions there.

Esau cancelled a scheduled interview with IPS on the subject of Zimbabwe but, in a public statement following the Zimbabwe trip, wrote that ‘‘if Zimbabwe is suspended (from the Kimberley Process)... it will only help exacerbate the problems in Zimbabwe continue (sic) and these diamonds would keep penetrating (sic) the legitimate trade.’’

In addition to the allegations of violence at Marange, the question of the governance of Zimbabwe’s diamond reserves has also come to the fore in debates about the country’s future in the Kimberley Process.

By Zimbabwe’s own mining and export statistics, the country should currently posses a diamond stockpile of 1.33 million carats (at a value of approximately 150 million dollars), a number that would be even higher if 2008 figures are factored into the equation. Many have questioned, given Zimbabwe’s economic downward spiral, whether this reserve still in fact exists.

In addition, the last three ministers of mines in the country - Amos Midzi (2004-2009), Sydney Sekeramayi (January 2009-February 2009) and Obert Mpofu (February 2009-present) - have all been present on travel ban lists compiled by the United States and European Union for what the latter charges as being ‘‘actively engaged in violence or human rights infringements’’ in the country.

With such a murky picture of the country’s diamond production there is a fear the smuggling has become widespread.

In September 2008, two Lebanese nationals were arrested in the Indian state of Gujarat (the centre of India’s diamond industry) with 800,000 dollars worth of rough diamonds lacking valid documentation. The men stated they had obtained the diamonds in Zimbabwe.

One month later, a Zimbabwean woman was stopped while in transit at the Dubai airport with 1.2 million dollars worth of diamonds strapped to her body.

Mugabe, who was ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, conceded this year to form a government of national unity with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the rival Movement for Democratic Change.

Tsvangirai, a former union leader whose brutalised visage after an assault by police in 2007 became an iconic image of Zimbabwe's suffering, became Zimbabwe’s prime minister in February. Since then, though the country's economic downward spiral has eased somewhat, unemployment is still thought to measure around 94 percent.

A report in January of this year by New York-based Human Rights Watch, ‘‘Crisis without Limits’’, criticised ‘‘the collapse of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system and the calculated disregard for the welfare of Zimbabweans by the ruling party’’.

It went on to cite a cholera epidemic that the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says has killed 4,127 people since August 2008, a tripling of Zimbabwe's infant mortality rate, and the five million Zimbabweans dependent upon international food aid (out of a population of around 13.5 million) as indicative of the country’s dire situation.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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