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  • Zim diamond engagement slammed as a blow to human rights
    Alex Bell, SW Radio Africa

    November 13, 2013

    View this article on the SW Radio Africa website

    Efforts by Europe’s diamond leaders to engage with Zimbabwe, all to secure trading ties, have been slammed as a serious blow to human rights, with murder, corruption and abuses still hanging over the Zim diamond mines.

    The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), the main hub of Europe’s diamond trading sector, is this week hosting a delegation of representatives from the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), in Antwerp.

    The meeting follows the decision in September by the European Union (EU) to remove targeted restrictive measures from the ZMDC, despite widespread concern about the role the diamonds are believed to have played in the alleged rigging of the July elections.

    Belgium has for years been pushing for the measures to be removed in order for the AWDC to trade with Zimbabwe, regardless of the human rights abuses and corruption reported at the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange. The re-engagement campaign stretches as far back as 2010, when a delegation from the AWDC toured the Zim mining operations and gave a glowing appraisal of the situation.

    That visit came barely two years after an estimated 200 diamonds panners were murdered in late 2008, following the government launch of a military led crackdown at the Chiadzwa alluvial fields. The crackdown, codenamed ‘Operation Hakudzokwi’ (no return), saw soldiers open fire on unarmed diamonds panners. Witnesses reported how helicopter gunships were used to open fire from above the panners, whose bodies were later dumped in mass graves.

    Despite eyewitness accounts of this slaughter, there has been no effort by either the local authorities or international stakeholders to investigate what happened at the diamond fields. Instead, there has been concerted effort to bring Zimbabwe back into the trading ring, and this week AWDC chief Ari Epstein told the Zim delegation that they were now part of the trading “family.”

    Human rights group Global Witness has led calls for tougher restrictions on Zimbabwe’s diamonds, because of rights abuses and the suspected illicit use of the diamond profits to keep ZANU PF afloat. It even quit its place in the international diamond watchdog group, the Kimberley Process (KP) in 2011 to protest, among other things, international efforts to resume diamond trading with Zimbabwe.

    Global Witness research has indicated that ZANU PF and the military have siphoned revenues from diamond ventures the ZMDC is involved in, in the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields. Last year, the campaign group published detailed evidence indicating that revenues from ZMDC firms were providing ‘off-budget financing’ to the security forces.

    Global Witness campaigner Emily Armistead told SW Radio Africa Wednesday that the European engagement with Zimbabwe, purely to secure diamond trading ties, was “unscrupulous.” She said the failure to investigate the Chiadzwa deaths and the international community’s failure to probe the situation further, means impunity has been allowed to continue.

    “Our research indicates that revenues are being siphoned off by the military and other parts of the authoritarian regime, meanwhile very little of the revenues are being used to help fund Zimbabwe’s development. So European companies should not be buying Zimbabwe diamonds until they’ve done better investigations of where the money is going,” Armistead said.

    She added: “Antwerp and the Belgium government have roundly ignored the evidence that links diamonds with Zimbabwe’s military and police, which demonstrates how unscrupulous the diamond industry can be.”

    Meanwhile, the diamond firms that eventually were giving clearance to mine the diamond fields have reneged on promises to hundreds of villagers forcibly relocated to make way for the diamond operations.

    Most recently, the Chinese run Anjin firm was criticised for going back on promises to provide food relief to villagers it relocated. At the same time, the Mbada firm has faced an angry backlash for a multimillion dollar football sponsorship, made while the villagers it displaced are facing starvation.

    Armistead said that the situation sends a strong signal that the international diamond sector urgently needs to reform and stop relying on the KP diamond watchdog alone to determine the ethical standard for diamonds.

    “It’s a call out to the diamond sector to begin taking its responsibility more seriously, because it has hidden behind the KP for too long,” Armistead said.

    The KP, which was set up to curb the trade in ‘blood diamonds’, allowed Zimbabwe to resume diamond trading regardless of the reports of abuses in Chiadzwa. The KP ruled that Zim diamonds were not ‘blood diamonds’, and could therefore be allowed on the international market.

    The body, which has since accused of losing credibility over the Zim situation, will be meeting in South Africa next week.

    SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe's Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.

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