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Diamonds and Guns– Is the Kimberley Process failing?

A diamond mining pit in the Marange fields of Zimbabwe. . . . Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Pres

A diamond mining pit in the Marange fields of Zimbabwe. . . . Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Pres

The New York Times is reporting:

An international body charged with stopping the illicit trade in diamonds that fuel conflict has decided not to suspend Zimbabwe, officials said Friday, though its investigators had concluded that Zimbabwe’s military had organized smuggling syndicates with the government’s permission and used “extreme violence” against illegal miners.

Instead, the countries that are part of the body, the United Nations-endorsed Kimberley Process, decided to send a monitor to decide whether future exports of rough diamonds from the troubled Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe could be certified as not supporting conflicts.

Human rights campaigners and nongovernmental organizations immediately denounced the decision, saying that the Kimberley Process had shown it was incapable of stopping gross abuses and the flouting of international standards.

Bernhard Esau, the Namibian deputy mining minister who heads the Kimberley Process, said in an interview on Friday that the nations that belong to the body had listened to what Zimbabwe “told us as a Kimberley family” and decided to give the government a chance to come into compliance with international standards under a monitor’s supervision and agreed timelines.

“If that time comes, we’ll have to see if those things have been met or not,” he said. “I am hopeful, but I don’t want to be let down. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.”

The plan agreed to on Thursday calls for private security companies, Zimbabwe’s police force and its mining ministry to secure the fields, while the military withdraws in phases.

Zimbabwe’s mining ministry, the police and the military forces are all under the control of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

Zimbabwe’s mining minister, Obert Mpofu, told the Kimberley gathering, held this week in Swakopmund, Namibia, that the situation in the Marange fields was improving. Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper, The Herald, this week described the effort to stop the trade in Zimbabwe’s diamonds as being led by Western nations and based on “a glut of unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuses.”

Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness, an organization that has advocated strict controls on diamond production, said: “This failure to act has sent a bad message. It says if you don’t follow the rules there will be no serious consequences.”

Advocates pointed out that the body’s decisions must be made by consensus, which means that a single country or small group of countries can block tough action. A suspension of Zimbabwe from the group would have curtailed its diamond sales, depriving Mr. Mugabe of a source of patronage for the military, analysts said.

Critics angrily noted that under the plan approved for Zimbabwe, its mining ministry has been put in charge of “education of villagers on the dangers of illegal mining.”

“The government already did that by killing more than 200 villagers and by beating and setting dogs on hundreds more,” said Ian Smillie, a researcher and advocate who was an architect of the Kimberley Process.

The report of the Kimberley investigators did not accuse Zimbabwe of having produced so-called conflict diamonds, those used to support armed conflicts, but said the military-run smuggling operation undermined the controls on the industry, allowing an opening for them to enter the market.

Kimberley investigators who visited the country in July found credible evidence that members of the Zimbabwean security forces had raped, assaulted and set dogs on illegal miners who flocked to the Marange fields. Human Rights Watch made similar findings in June.

The Kimberley team also found that Zimbabwe had provided it with information that was “false, and likely intentionally so.”

Zimbabwe has denied any wrongdoing and blamed “rogue elements” for illegal mining.

This is quite troubling. The Kimberley Process had seemed to offer much promise in its attempt to regulate the diamond mining industry.

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Welcome! Who am I?



Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.