Call for ban on Zimbabwe diamond trade

Aug. 12, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- A human-rights organization joined the call to have Zimbabwe removed from the international diamond trade.

Human Rights Watch said the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, organized to control the marketing of so-called blood diamonds, should suspend trade in diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange area in the eastern part of the country.

International officials say the Zimbabwean military controls diamond-mining operations in Marange and is involved in human-rights abuses in the region. About 200 independent miners were killed in the area last year by the military, and local inhabitants are allegedly being forced to work the mines by gunpoint.

The government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is said to use the sale of diamonds to pay off police and military to keep them loyal to his rule.

KPCS sent a team to Marange in June to study the situation. A leaked copy of the group's report said Zimbabwe wasn't keeping to the international organization's standards.

Britain's Daily Telegraph, which said it obtained a copy of the unreleased KPCS report, quoted it as saying the on-site team recommended suspension from the international diamond trade for a period of "at least six months but until such time as the KP team determines that minimum standards have been met." The report also called for the demilitarization of the region.

"Not only has Zimbabwe refused to move the military out of Marange but it has rotated new units in," Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a release last week from South Africa. "The human-rights abuses and smuggling are continuing, and witnesses to earlier abuses are being harassed and threatened."

Human Rights Watch issued a report June 26 that alleged "horrific abuses against miners and local residents, including killings, beatings and torture." The rights organization said that six weeks later abuses continue, although Zimbabwean officials deny such allegations.

It also claimed that the Zimbabwean government was moving military units through the diamond-rich region to allow commanders "illicit access to Zimbabwe's mineral wealth at a time of national economic and political crisis." That access is believed to keep the commanders in the Mugabe camp.

Zimbabwe's overall situation is dire. Mugabe has refused to fully implement a power-sharing plan agreed to in the wake of the most recent elections. The country was once considered prosperous, but inflation is now reported at 500 billion percent, leaving the Zimbabwean dollar worthless. As many as 3 million people have fled the country for South Africa.

Mineral wealth is seen as one area of potential help for the country, but government control of the reserves, and international opposition to dealing with the president, has kept that from being a reality.

KPCS action could help, Human Right Watch said, by banning, for a time, international trade in Marange diamonds.

"The Kimberley Process took an important first step in condemning government conduct in Marange," Gagnon said. "Faced with evidence that Zimbabwe is ignoring its concerns, it should publish the review mission report. Then it should take the next logical step, and suspend Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is clearly not going to take the necessary corrective actions on its own."

Human Rights Watch contends that Zimbabwe could realize $200 million a month if the country's diamond reserves were legally regulated.

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