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ZIMBABWE: Watchdog Groups Urge Ban on Diamond Exports

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Nov 2 2009 (IPS) - The past week brought new scrutiny of Zimbabwe’s human rights record with the deportation of a senior U.N. official sent to investigate torture there, and demands by a coalition of civil society groups that the international community address human rights violations stemming from Zimbabwe’s lucrative diamond industry.

Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak had been invited to Zimbabwe by Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition party leader and prime minister, but Tsvangirai cut off cooperation with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, leading to Nowak’s deportation.

Upon his arrival in Harare on Oct. 29, Nowak was denied entry to Zimbabwe and sent back to Johannesburg.

“The president feels it is not a good thing if an independent human rights expert is assessing the situation of torture and ill-treatment in the country,” said Nowak at his arrival in Johannesburg.

The government-controlled Herald newspaper described Nowak as trying “to gatecrash into the country”.

While Nowak’s high-profile deportation has brought scrutiny to recent accusations of human rights abuses and torture conducted under Mugabe, last week also brought a strong statement from the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, saying that Zimbabwe was failing to meet international standards set forth by the Kimberly Process (KP) and should be suspended from importing and exporting rough diamonds.

The KP is a certification scheme under which diamond-producing countries have mechanisms in place to ensure that diamonds are “conflict free”.

Members of the KP are holding their annual plenary this week in Namibia and the KP’s Civil Society Coalition, whose members include Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada and Green Advocates (Liberia), are calling on KP member countries to act on the ongoing allegations of human rights abuses surrounding the Zimbabwean diamond industry.

“Since the discovery in 2006 of significant alluvial diamond deposits in Marange, eastern Zimbabwe, controls over the diamond sector have been nonexistent and communities in and around the diamond fields have borne the brunt of a series of brutal measures to restore state control over the area,” read a statement from Global Witness.

“The authorities have failed to stop the military from carrying out abuses and profiting from the illicit trade in diamonds, effectively condoning – and perhaps even encouraging – the looting and attendant violence against civilians,” the statement continued.

The legitimacy of the KP and its certification of “conflict free” diamonds will be put in jeopardy should the member countries choose not to act on the abuses occurring in Zimbabwe, says Global Witness.

The Civil Society Coalition highlights the need for KP reforms in: binding human rights provisions for KP members; permitting faster decision-making in the KP to facilitate swift action; forming an independent statistical and research analysis capability; and ensuring that diamond profits are at least partly used to promote development initiatives.

“One of the things we’re concerned about is the fact that it calls into question the credibility of the Kimberly Process if governments are unwilling to take action against countries which aren’t in compliance with the minimum requirements,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the U.S. office of Global Witness, told IPS.

“Given the challenges we found in getting Zimbabwe suspended, we think there should be more explicit provisions introduced to ensure basic human rights in the diamond sector,” she said.

A KP review mission in July found that Zimbabwe was not meeting KP standards and recommended that it not be allowed to import or export diamonds under the KP process, “until such time as a KP team determines that minimum standards have been met”.

The team found gross human rights violations over the past year since the military took control of the eastern Marange diamond fields.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in June that the military had killed wildcat diamond diggers in Marange in late 2008 and was profiting from the diamond trade.

The Zimbabwean government has denied any killings by the military in Marange.

“[D]iamond mining in the eastern part of Zimbabwe is not helping in any way in the resuscitation of the economy or contributing to resources the country needs. A huge part of that is being siphoned to associates of the government or the military,” Briggs Bomba, director of campaigns at Africa Action, told IPS.

“The proper accountability, human rights protections and security systems have to be put in place because of the serious human rights abuses which have taken place,” he said.

The KP Civil Society Coalition also warned that the KP’s indecisiveness in responding to abuses in Zimbabwe was distracting member governments from dealing with reports of human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire.

A U.N. report last week found that Ivorian conflict diamonds – against which the U.N. has imposed sanctions – continue to be exported via neighboring states and laundered into legitimate KP trade.

The KP is made up of 48 participants representing 74 countries – the European Community counting as a single participant – and includes all major rough diamond producing, exporting or importing nations.

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