An international human rights watchdog group says the Kimberley Process (KP) should not allow further exports from Chiadzwa diamond fields until the government makes clear progress in ending abuses and smuggling.
The calls by Human Rights Watch (HRW) coincide with a key meeting of the KP, which kicked off on Monday in Jerusalem, Israel.
Zimbabwe has a high-powered delegation, led by Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu.
HRW said research from July through September established that large parts of the fields remain under the control of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces soldiers whom they accuse of human rights violations.
In November 2009, the government and the KP agreed to a joint work plan where Zimbabwe committed to a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the controversial diamond fields, and for a monitor to examine and certify that all shipments of diamonds met requisite standards.
“The government made a lot of promises, but soldiers still control most diamond fields and are involved in illicit mining and smuggling,” said Rona Peligal, Africa director for HRW.
“Zimbabwe should mine its diamonds without relying on an abusive military that preys on the local population.”
HRW said KP members should address human rights abuses in Chiadzwa and recognise human rights issues as a fundamental element of the KP mandate.
At a special meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, in July, KP members agreed to permit Zimbabwe to export two shipments of diamonds under supervision of the body’s monitors, on condition that the body would investigate conditions in the Chiadzwa fields.
The agreement also tied all future exports of diamonds to clear and measurable progress in ending smuggling and abuses, and allowed for local civil society groups to participate in monitoring progress in the fields.
HRW alleged the KP team sent in to review conditions in the fields in August was routinely obstructed by government officials from conducting its activities and was unable to gather crucial information about conditions in the majority of diamond fields.
“The Zimbabwean army uses syndicates of local miners to extract diamonds.
Local miners told Human Rights Watch that the army coercively recruits local people to help the army dig for diamonds.
Many people are afraid to refuse, fearing that the soldiers will beat and harass them,” Peligal said.
“In July, a scuffle between police, soldiers, and local miners ended in the death of a miner, who was hit over the head with an iron bar by a policeman. There has been no investigation into the miner’s death.”
The group said widespread smuggling of diamonds had not ended and that scores of buyers and middlemen openly traded in the small Mozambican town of Vila de Manica, 25km from Mutare.
“The Kimberley Process should not allow the export of further shipments of diamonds from Marange until there is meaningful progress to end smuggling and abuses by the army,” Peligal said.
“Without these kinds of reforms, international consumers risk purchasing ‘blood diamonds’.
With elections proposed for 2011, reports of Zanu PF and military involvement in diamond mining raise serious concerns that revenue from the diamonds will be used to fund political violence ahead of the elections.
“Revenue from Marange should benefit the people of Zimbabwe, not finance political violence.”