Zimbabwe Diamond Trade Under Spotlight
Zimbabwe Diamond Trade Under Spotlight
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The so-called Kimberley Process, a joint international government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, will decide at its annual meeting in Namibia this week whether to suspend Zimbabwe from its certification plan.

The deliberations on Zimbabwe result from a visit to the country earlier this year by a delegation from the Kimberley Process. They heard testimony from witnesses accused by the government of illegal mining, that they had been abused by members of President Robert Mugabe's security forces.

Several informal miners at the diamond fields said the Zimbabwe army used helicopter gunships in an operation to take control of the Chiadzwa diamond field in the Marange district of eastern Manicaland last year. They said that many poverty stricken people digging for diamonds were shot and wounded and that an unknown number were killed. Others said they had been beaten and chased away by security forces.

The Harare High Court ruled last month that the Chiadswz diamond fields have belonged to a British company, African Consolidated Resources since late 2006. The Zimbabwe mining ministry has ignored the court ruling and ZANU-PF Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said the army and police continue to control the diamond fields because the area is a "security zone".

Canadian Ian Smillie was one of the architects of the Kimberley Process set up seven years ago to try to end trade in conflict diamonds. He resigned earlier this year because he said he said the organization had failed to act against Zimbabwe over what he and some non-governmental organizations say are many gross human-rights abuses at the Chiadzwa diamond fields.

He tells VOA, that like 79 other countries, Zimbabwe has legally adopted the provisions of the Kimberley Process, and the organization has the powers to ensure that governments abide by their commitments, which aim to ensure that diamonds are produced without violating human rights. Smilie says this is not happening.

"The problem is that the Kimberley process has not been enforcing its minimum standards, so you have all kinds of holes in the boat, so diamonds are leaking out in a whole variety of ways. What has to happen is the Kimberley Process and individual governments have to enforce the laws they have passed," he said.

Smillie says the final report to be presented to the organization's annual meeting this week in Namibia has been "watered down" from that prepared originally by the delegation that visited Zimbabwe. He said that consequently the Kimberley Process has betrayed its mandate for Zimbabwe.

"It demonstrates that the Kimberley Process is not willing to get tough with Zimbabwe, a country that does not meet minimum standards, where there have been all kinds of human-rights abuse and a number of other problems," he said.

And Smillie says the implications are much greater. "It sends a signal to other countries that basically they too do not have to observe minimum standards. They do not have to worry about smuggling, they do not have to worry about the rule of law, they do not have to worry about human rights. So then, would we even bother having a Kimberly Process if it will not get to grips with the most egregious examples?," he said.

The head of the Global Witness Conflict Resources Team researching and monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe, Mike Davis, said earlier this year Zimbabwe should be suspended from the world body. "We have been calling for several months now for the Kimberley Process to take action and to suspend Zimbabwe from participating until it can demonstrate there are no human-rights abuses in the manner in which those diamonds are being extracted and traded," he said.

Smillie said if Zimbabwe were suspended this would be good for the diamond industry internationally and would show that the organization is willing to deal with issues of human rights and the rule of law. "I think because nobody could imagine at the beginning of this thing that human rights were going to become a problem in the diamonds fields of the countries that are members. But it is an issue and I think this is the beginning of a more mature Kimberley Process that can deal with some of the fundamental issues that consumers are concerned about," he said.

Mines Minister Mpofu told the ZANU-PF controlled state press last month he had found new foreign partners to work with his officials in a joint venture to develop production from the diamond fields.

The Kimberly Process annual meeting ends Thursday.