JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The decision to allow the export of rough diamonds from the Marange fields was “a pure business deal” and failed to address the risk of the diamond industry financing political violence in Zimbabwe in the lead up to the country’s election next year, the Kimberley Process (KP) Civil Society Coalition of Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs) warned this week.
Zimbabwe was given the green light to start rough diamond exports from all operations in the controversial region, according to an agreement reached on Monday at the 8th KP Plenary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The NGOs stated that each election in Zimbabwe over the last decade has been accompanied by widespread violence and intimidation, adding that significant money was needed to coordinate the violence.
Further, the “business” agreement left out key concerns of Zimbabwe’s civil society. Such concerns, said Farai Maguwu, who was honoured with the Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for his work in the Marange diamond fields, included the protection of the locals from human rights abuses in and around Marange and ensuring that Marange diamonds were properly accounted for.
The KP Civil Society Coalition of NGOs, led by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) and Global Witness, said the KP has “thrown away” its main point of leverage over the Zimbabwean government by allowing it to export diamonds without first fulfilling previous commitments to reform its diamond trade.
"The KP has effectively given up on Zimbabwe. KP member governments and the diamond industry seem ready to turn their back on the interests of Zimbabwe's citizens, the public good and the principles on which the Kimberley Process was founded," said Liberia-based Green Advocates president Alfred Brownell.
The Marange diamond fields were seized in 2008 by government security forces, who allegedly killed at least 200 small-scale miners.
At the end of 2009, the Zimbabwean government agreed to undertake a series of reforms as a prerequisite for KP authorisation of further exports. This joint work plan required among other things, demilitarisation, action on smuggling and the legalisation of small-scale mining.
The NGOs said that the KP plenary meeting in Kinshasa dispensed with any meaningful link between Zimbabwe's compliance with the joint work plan and the KP's authorisation of diamond exports.
“This comes in spite of the Zimbabwean military remaining deeply involved in diamond mining in Marange, persistent and widespread smuggling and no progress in enabling small-scale miners to work legally. Regular reports of human rights abuses against miners by security forces continue,” the coalition said.
A previous agreement between the KP and Zimbabwe gave local civil society representatives the official status of local focal point, allowing them to access Marange and formally report back to the KP.
This status promised protection for activists who have previously been arrested and harassed over their work on Zimbabwe's opaque diamond industry.
The new agreement, while maintaining that civil society organisations retain access to the Marange fields, strips the local focal point of its official status, the NGO coalition said.
"This deal only reinforces the perception that there is no limit to how far the KP is prepared to go in lowering the ethical bar on Marange," said Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association lawyer Shamiso Mtisi, also a coordinator of the Local Focal Point.
"Given the chance to keep Zimbabwe to its previous commitments, the KP has shown itself incapable of doing the right thing."
The deal in Kinshasa also poses a difficult question for the diamond industry and KP member countries.
The integrity of the entire clean diamond supply chain is on the line, said PAC research director Alan Martin. "How can consumers buy a diamond this Christmas with any confidence that they are not buying a Marange diamond mined in unquestionable violence. How can industry give any assurances that they will be able to separate these diamonds from the legitimate diamond supply chain?"
However, on Thursday, World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) president Avi Paz voiced the WFDB's hope that the decision would enable a period of stability for members of the diamond supply pipeline.
"Zimbabwe has a great role to play in the future of world diamond production," Paz said. "The country's diamond wealth can and must serve as a means to raise the living standards of all its citizens.”
The new agreement will remain under constant review and will remain in force until the yearly KP plenary meeting in 2012.
The agreement pointed out that the export of rough diamonds was subject to the KP monitoring teams verification of compliance.
There are currently two operations in Marange that are KP-compliant – Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners – two companies in joint ventures with the State's Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.
"This is a real milestone, and demonstrates categorically that the KP provides the framework through which the integrity of the rough diamond chain of distribution can be protected, while at the same time enabling producing countries to gain benefit from their natural resources," World Diamond Council president Eli Izhakoff said earlier this week.
Paz said it was critical for all players in the pipeline to support the resolution, regardless of their criticism.
“We must all understand that the alternative, which is disassociation and rejection, would create havoc. That would negatively impact not only the lives of the Zimbabwean people, but also of millions of others worldwide who depend on the diamond industry for their livelihoods."
The WFDB president warned that this agreement was just the beginning of a long process.
"All parties now will have to step up to the plate and make sure they respect the agreement in full. We can be sure that the Zimbabwean people and their representatives, NGOs, the global diamond business community, and the world at large will be looking over the KP's shoulder, critically and continuously. This is an opportunity not to be missed," Paz added.