Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds

 

Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds and the failure of the international community

 fruit” – Zimbabwean Proverb

As news of the immense mineral wealth in Zimbabwe became apparent a few years ago, many hoped that the discovery of precious diamonds would endow the deeply troubled nation with a lifeline. However, as has too often proved the case in Africa, mineral riches have offered yet another devastating blow to a weary land.

Located near Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique, lie the vast and significant Marange diamond fields; areas of immense mineral deposits, which have become increasingly identified as the latest frontier in the world’s production of ‘blood diamonds’. The diamond fields of Marange potentially hold up to a fifth of the world’s diamond reserves, and with an estimated value in the region of $800 billion, the ethical dilemmas involved in the globalised trade of diamonds have once again cast scrutiny over the network. Reports of grave human rights abuses throughout the region, coupled with the industry’s inability and seeming unwillingness to guarantee the ethical sourcing of diamonds, pose alarming questions about the future viability of ‘clean’ diamonds.

In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council established the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), designed to prevent the trade of illicit diamonds and its close links with brutal and self-perpetuating armed conflicts, particularly in Africa. However the scheme is in disarray almost a decade on, and the market in blood diamonds has evaded the frameworks designed to end its practice.

President Robert Mugabe’s forces seized control of the Marange diamond fields in 2007; since then, numerous reports have highlighted abuses towards local communities and diggers. The NGO Global Witness has documented violence since 2007, finding evidence of grave human rights abuses; ‘resulting in hundreds of deaths, and many more cases of assault, rape, arbitrary detention and forced labour’. Furthermore, the report condemned the ‘smuggling operation that enables rough diamonds to flow from Zimbabwe outside the KPCS [Kimberley Process Certification Scheme][…] largely operated and maintained by official entities’. Citing their findings as valid justification for the temporary expulsion of Zimbabwe from the KPCS, and despite an official KP review team itself acknowledging Zimbabwe’s use of ‘extreme violence’ and non-compliance with prescribed regulations, the country has retained its membership.

The BBC’s recent Panorama documentary has added further, damning evidence about the nature of operations at the Marange diamond fields. In their desire to monopolise the mining of diamonds in the region, the ruling forces have punished civilians found to be mining for diamonds, whilst corrupt police and military personnel have forcibly recruited civilians to dig illegally on their behalf. The programme uncovered a range of torture and abuse techniques suffered by prisoners at the hands of Mugabe’s forces. These included regimented whippings, ‘40 whips in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 in the evening’, as well as the sexual assault of female prisoners. In further unsettling revelations, a former police officer disclosed techniques involving mock-drownings, genital whipping, and the use of dogs to maul prisoners.

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