November 2, 2011

Civil Society activists criticise diamond deal

The Kimberley Process (KP) has thrown away its main point of leverage over the Zimbabwean government by allowing it to export diamonds from the controversial Marange region without first fulfilling previous commitments to reform its diamond trade, said the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition of NGOs. “The Kimberley Process has effectively given up on Zimbabwe,” said Alfred Brownell, President of Green Advocates, Liberia. “KP member governments and the diamond industry seem ready to turn their back on the interests of Zimbabwe’s citizens, the public good and the principles on which the Kimberley Process was founded.”

The Marange diamond fields were seized in 2008 by government security forces, who killed at least 200 small scale miners. At the end of 2009 the Zimbabwean government agreed to undertake a series of reforms as a basis for Kimberley Process authorisation of further exports. This ‘Joint Work Plan’ required among other things, demilitarisation, action on smuggling, and the legalisation of small scale mining.

A previous agreement between the Kimberley Process and Zimbabwe gave local civil society representatives the official status of Local Focal Point, allowing them to access Marange and formally report back to the Kimberley Process. This status promised protection for activists who have previously been arrested and harassed over their work on Zimbabwe’s opaque diamond industry.

The new agreement, while maintaining that civil society organisations retain access to the Marange fields, strips the Local Focal Point of its official status.
“It’s a pure business deal that leaves out key concerns of Zimbabwe’s civil society: that is protection of the locals from human rights abuses in and around Marange and ensuring that Marange diamonds are properly accounted for, for the benefit of the suffering Zimbabwean people,” Farai Maguwu said from New York where he is being honoured with Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for his work in the Marange diamond fields.

“This deal only reinforces the perception that there is no limit to how far the KP is prepared to go in lowering the ethical bar on Marange,” said Shamiso Mtisi, Coordinator of the Local Focal Point and Environmental Lawyer at the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association. “Given the chance to keep Zimbabwe to its previous commitments, the KP has shown itself incapable of doing the right thing.”

The deal in Kinshasa also poses a very difficult question for the diamond industry and KP member countries: What of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stockpiled diamonds linked to the worst bouts of violence in late 2008 and 2009? “The integrity of the entire clean diamond supply chain is on the line,” said Alan Martin, Research Director of Partnership Africa Canada. “How can consumers buy a diamond this Christmas with any confidence that they are not buying a Marange diamond mined in unquestionable violence? How can industry give any assurances that they will be able to separate these diamonds from the legitimate diamond supply chain?” (actsa)

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