Blood diamonds continue to be mined and sold from Marange (Zimbabwe) – which contains the largest known concentration of diamonds in the world – and find their way into jewellery stores worldwide. Kimberley Process is failing in its core mission of keeping blood diamonds out of international markets. Everything indicates that the beneficiaries of this diamond wealth are largely members of the military and officials in President Robert Mugabe's inner circle. Even so, Kimberley Process members insist on not suspending Zimbabwe or banning the sale of its stones.
Depicting IDM's (Illicit Diamond Miners) at their Wash Site, panning for diamonds using the ubiquitous "Shakers" (Photo by Brian Harrington Spier)
By buying pieces of diamond jewellery, people often intend to convey love to someone special. But, if it contains diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, it could have a bloody past of abuse.
In 2002, an international body backed by the United Nations was founded to ensure that traders and consumers could identify blood diamonds and prevent their trade. The group - the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme - now represents seventy-five countries, including Zimbabwe, and claims to cover 99% of the global rough-diamond industry. But its credibility and trust are now at stake.
Recently, both Human Rights Watch and Kimberley Process review missions found that diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe are mined under conditions of serious human rights abuses, in breach of the standards set by the organisation, which require members to ensure that diamonds are rightfully mined, documented and exported.
Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process works by consensus. Because its members include Namibia, Russia and South Africa, which support Mugabe, the group decided in November 2009 not to suspend Zimbabwe or ban the sale of its stones. The excuse: the Kimberley Process defines blood diamonds as those mined by abusive rebel groups, not by abusive governments. But after all, does it matter who carries out the abuses? I strongly believe it does not.
At the same time, nevertheless, it is understandable why some members did so. Robert Mugabe once was a guerrilla. After transforming minority white-run Rhodesia into majority black-run Zimbabwe, he turned his country into one of the fastest-growing and most diversified economies south of the Sahara - for the first decade and a half of his rule. His status as a true war hero and the aid he lent other African liberation movements in the 1980s are the motives for so many African leaders being reluctant to criticize him today.
BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson has visited Marange, which contains the largest known concentration of diamonds in the world. Simpson spoke to Justice Smith, a former judge who was once President Mugabe's top civil servant and played a key role in the Lancaster House negotiations in 1980 which brought about Zimbabwe's independence. When asked if he was talking about people at the top, Smith replied: "Very much so." Even for a man as Smith, in the current atmosphere in Zimbabwe, it is dangerous to name names.
The beneficiaries of this diamond wealth are largely members of the military, government-appointed corporate entities, and officials in President Robert Mugabe's inner circle, as also pointed out by HRW and several newspaper features.
All that considered, the Kimberley Process is at a cross-road; in real danger of crumbling. It is failing in its core mission of keeping blood diamonds out of international markets. Many consumers are again asking: "How do I know this diamond is not financing serious human rights abusers?"
To make this quite clear, the members have to leave petty politics aside and ban the sale of Zimbabwe’s stones; or a far-reaching reform will be needed. On the contrary, this so well intentioned organization is fated to fail. Don’t you agree?
“They (authorities) know what we have done to develop this town”
A brilliant recent feature by NRC Handelsblad is definitely worth reading it. Below are some genuine intriguing extracts of it.
Illustration by NRC Handelsblad
According to human-rights activist Farai Maguwu, the armed forces and the senior politicians have taken control of the diamond business. "They have institutionalised the illegal trade," he said.
The Zimbabwean government has granted concessions to two South African companies to help state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation exploit the fields. The companies have little mining experience. The new Partners are "old friends" of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said Maguwu. "Syndicates operate with the involvement of all authorities, on both the Zimbabwean and the Mozambican side. The police, border guards, tax officers; everyone is paid 100 US dollars and they are all happy."
The diamonds are taken through the mountains or just across the border crossing to buyers such as Jesus. He was a Lebanese, but declined to give his real name. "Why would you write about diamonds," he grumbled. "There is no bigger lie than that of diamonds. We can't live without oil or water, but diamonds are not good for anything. So what are we even talking about?"
And Jesus delivered on more: "International media and these so-called human rights activists are spoiling it again. Now that president Mugabe knows that we are bringing his diamonds to the world markets, he has taken charge and there is less left for us."
Trading is less lucrative. "In the beginning, the Zimbabwean boys would offer us coffee cups full of stones," he said. "And they were happy if we gave them a meal, a pair of jeans or a bag of flour in return. These days, they know exactly what their trade is worth and won't settle for anything less than stacks of dollar bills. It is not as much fun as it used to be, I must say." Jesus had already mentioned he considered the local authorities his best friends. "They know what we have done to develop this town. When the market burned down, we gave the mayor 50,000 dollars to rebuild it."