The future of the Kimberley Process and the global image of the diamond industry hung in the balance after the organization’s annual meeting ended Thursday in the Namibian capital of Windhoek without any decisive action against Zimbabwe for alleged gross human rights abuses of diamond panners and for using the profits from diamond sales to prop up Robert Mugabe’s oppressive regime.

This story first appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The southern African nation, bordered by South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique, was high on the agenda of the Kimberley Process, the international regulatory body formed in 2002 as an initiative between governments, industry and civilian groups to stem the flow of conflict diamonds. For decades, rough diamonds have been used by rebel groups to finance wars against legitimate governments in nations such as Angola, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zimbabwe, a once-prosperous country, fertile and rich in natural resources, has been reduced to ruin, its currency deeply devalued and its people mired in poverty because of economic mismanagement. The new unity government formed last year when Mugabe agreed to share power with his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, has failed to curb the military and rogue elements that control the diamond mines, often by bloody means. Over 100 workers have been massacred in the Marange diamond fields in the past year, according to the Center for Research & Development, a rights-advocacy group based in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Panners continue to be harassed and threatened on a daily basis, the group said.

The income from the diamonds, which the center estimates to be about $1 million a month, has been used to prop up Mugabe’s regime. Despite a scathing report presented to the Kimberley Process this week by a fact-finding group sent to Zimbabwe in June, the organization refused to expel Zimbabwe. “First of all, there has to be consensus among the members,” said Andrew Cranswick, chief executive officer of the London-listed Zimbabwean mining company African Consolidated Resources, which owns Marange.

Cranswick said he has been unable to go near the mine to monitor conditions because it has been seized by the military.

“Secondly, they prefer to ask Zimbabwe to suspend itself voluntarily, which will never happen,” Cranswick said. “Seeing how the country continues to behave with impunity and lawlessness does not make it likely that this will happen.”

Speaking on behalf of the Zimbabwe government at the conference, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu on Wednesday was quoted in the Namibian press as saying, “We strongly believe that, as a country, we have done all in complying with the requirements of the Process.”

Mpofu denied the alleged abuses and blamed the Process for failing to provide technical support needed for full compliance.

For its part, the Kimberley Process said it has adopted a Joint Work Plan proposed by the Zimbabwe government that will give the country more time to meet basic trade standards. The plan also calls for an independent monitor to inspect diamonds leaving the Marange fields and for the Kimberley Process to provide technical assistance to the country to help it become fully compliant.

Cranswick said the Kimberley Process, though well-intentioned, can only try to regulate the flow of rough diamonds, adding it was up to consumers whether they should buy diamonds, when doing so could fund tribal warfare, genocide and terrorism.

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