March 10, 2005

New report alleges blood still stains diamonds

Angola's diamond industry is beset by murders, beatings, arbitrary detentions and other human rights violations, alleges a new report, and the international community should boycott these gems. 'Angola's Deadly Diamonds', produced by human rights activists who recorded the abuses in the diamond-rich provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul throughout 2004, said such violations against both Angolans and foreigners had become the norm.
Since the Angolan government launched its crackdown against diamond smugglers in the area known as the Lundas, there have been reports of unrest and violence at the hands of both the national police and diamond company security firms.
The report's authors - journalist and civil rights campaigner Rafael Marques, and lawyer Rui Falcao de Campos - said in a statement that they "link the violence to lawlessness and corruption that ensure only a privileged few benefit from the region's diamond wealth". Government and police representatives were not immediately available for comment on the report, which called on the international community to reconsider the objectives of the Kimberley Process, which seeks to end the trade in illegal 'blood' diamonds through an international certification system, and include stones from areas where diamond mining "is based on the systematic violation of human rights" in the category of 'conflict diamonds'.
Arguing that Angola's diamonds were still tainted, despite the end of the 27-year civil conflict in 2002, the document urged foreign countries to impose sanctions against trading in Angolan gems until such time as "the Angolan state guarantees labour and social standards compatible with the human rights values of the UN system." Angolan officials believed the state was losing as much as $375 million in revenue every year because of diamond smuggling.
In December 2003 the government launched "Operation Brilliant", a plan to arrest and expel those found illegally mining the gems - so far more than 250,000 miners and smugglers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and West African countries, have been deported. In addition to the alleged rights abuses, the report argued that the Lunda regions offered few economic opportunities other than diamond mining, with provincial governors having the final say in granting commercial and farming licences. Such control, coupled with the outlawing of informal mining, "forces most diggers to operate on the margins of the law, vulnerable to extortion, imprisonment and even murder," the authors claimed. (IRIN)


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