Human rights body urges extension of Zimbabwe diamond export ban

Harare – Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme should not allow further exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields (east) until the government “makes clear progress in ending abuses and smuggling."

In a statement issued ahead of a Kimberley Process plenary meeting which began in Israel on Monday, HRW said research it conducted between July and September had established that large parts of the fields remained under the control of Zimbabwean soldiers who harass and intimidate the local community and engage in widespread diamond smuggling.

"The government made a lot of promises, but soldiers still control most diamond fields and are involved in illicit mining and smuggling," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at HRW.

In November 2009, the government of Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process agreed to a Joint work plan (JWP) under which Zimbabwe committed to a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the diamond fields and for a monitor to examine and certify that all shipments of diamonds from Marange met Kimberley Process standards.

At a special meeting in Russia in July, Kimberley Process members agreed to permit Zimbabwe to export two shipments of diamonds under supervision of the body’s monitors, on condition that the body would investigate conditions in the Marange fields.

The agreement also tied all future exports of diamonds to clear and measurable progress in ending smuggling and abuses, and allowed for local civil society groups to participate in monitoring progress in the fields.

HRW said the Zimbabwean army was using syndicates of local miners to extract diamonds.

“Local miners told Human Rights Watch that the army coercively recruits local people to help the army dig for diamonds. Many people are afraid to refuse, fearing that the soldiers will beat and harass them,” the rights group said.

The Kimberley Process summit closes on Thursday and is expected to discuss Zimbabwe’s progress in implementing the JWP.