Diamond council promises tough action on Zimbabwe

eli_izhakoffJohannesburg -World Diamond Council president, Eli Izhakoff, plans to take a tough stance on Zimbabwe when the grouping meets tomorrow in Russia to discuss among other things whether Zimbabwe should be allowed to sell its diamonds. (Pictured: World Diamond Council president Eli Izhakoff)

A week-long meeting of the Kimberley Process (KP) diamond certification scheme in Tel Aviv three weeks ago, where Zimbabwe’s compliance with the scheme’s minimum requirements was hotly debated, ended in a deadlock.

Over 75 of the world’s diamond producing, trading and manufacturing countries participating in the scheme are expected to meet again this week to make the final decision whether Zimbabwe can resume exporting its stockpiled diamonds.

“As the past year has demonstrated, we will not be assembling in St. Petersburg simply to pay lip service to the values upon which the [World Diamond Council] was founded, he warned. The on-going situation in countries like Zimbabwe and the dedication of our industry to operate in a transparent and principled manner means that there are burning issues on the table, which we will discuss and for which we will formulate strategies,” Izhakoff said in a statement.

The WDC Annual Meeting will begin tomorrow with committee working sessions. The official opening of the meeting will take place on the morning of Thursday. It will be followed immediately by the WDC Plenary Session, where a guest of honour and keynote speaker will be Boaz Hirsch, Chairman of the Kimberley Process (KP) and a senior Israeli government official.

Concern has in the past been raised at Zimbabwe’s ‘blood diamonds.’

A number of prominent organisations, including Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada, and Human Rights Watch have documented grave human rights abuses in Marange and have called on KP member states to suspend Zimbabwe from the scheme, halt the export of its stones, and broaden the mandate of the KP to include human rights violations committed by governments.

Over the past two years, hundreds of informal diamond panners have been killed in eastern Zimbabwe by units of the Zimbabwean army and police, which have also been intimately involved in the illicit exploitation and smuggling of diamonds from Marange. KP participant countries have so far failed to reach consensus on suspending Zimbabwe from membership.

In November 2009, a compromise action plan was agreed upon by the KP and Zimbabwe , but evidence, including the raid on Centre for Research and Development, suggested that, while Zimbabwe might have addressed some technical concerns, the human rights situation on the ground had not improved.

Civil society groups have called upon Kimberley Process members to suspend the monitoring arrangement provided for under the November work plan, until Zimbabwean authorities gave concrete assurances that people who provide information to the KP will not be persecuted and harassed by the state security agencies for their actions.

Jailed human rights activist and diamonds researcher Farai Maguwu remained behind bars last weekend after a ruling on his bail appeal had been postponed until yesterday. The state prosecutor, last week, argued that Maguwu must remain in custody until the investigations were completed, saying he would abscond if released and interfere with investigations. The prosecutor also said the state needed at least another month to conduct its investigations.

Defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said that the lack of evidence before the court was a clear testimony that the state was dragging its feet in dealing with the matter.

Maguwu has been in jail since June 3 for allegedly publishing information, which is prejudicial to the Zimbabwean state. Several requests to give him bail have been denied by the state.

The European Parliament last week demanded for Maguwus release, who they said was jailed for exposing the army’s atrocities in the Marange diamond fields.

The continued incarceration of Maguwu, the abuse of Zimbabwe’s diamond workers and the failure of international bodies to take action was brought to the attention of the European Parliament last Thursday by Conservative Member of the European Parliament, MEP, Geoffrey Van Orden.

The European Conservative and Reformist Group drafted a motion calling for the support of the European Parliament to demand Maguwus release and called upon the KP to address this issue.

President Robert Mugabe has accused Western countries of refusing to certify the sale of Zimbabwe diamonds as a way of blunting targeted sanctions against his regime and prevent it from reasserting itself.

Mugabe, addressing an inner Cabinet of his Zanu (PF) party, the Central Committee last week singled out Australia, Canada and the US as countries he said were pressuring the KP Certification Scheme from endorsing a resumption of exports from Marange.

The KP is a rough diamond certification scheme, established in 2003 that brings together governments, industry and civil society, and aims to eradicate the trade in conflict diamonds.

“We have been put in the dock for having diamonds in our territory and for wanting to exploit them with partners from other countries other than from these other Western nations,” Mugabe said, without elaborating which other countries had partnered Zimbabwe.

If fully mined, the Marange diamonds could make up 25 percent of the global supply, earning Zimbabwe US$1.7 billion monthly.

He denounced Western countries for imposing “sanctions” on Zimbabwean leaders over charges of vote rigging and rights abuses, and said they wanted his regime to collapse.

“We have been put in the dock because it is asserting Zimbabwe that has found diamonds and is thus likely to be even more assertive in outlook,” the veteran leader, 86, said.

“We have been put in the dock because these same countries have imposed illegal sanctions on us for our total ruin and diamonds will thus blunt their sanction by enabling us to offset and checkmate their disastrous effects on our people and on our economy.”

Harare insists it has complied with KP’s demands. Authorities cite a recent positive report from the KP regulator’s monitor Abbey Chikane who recommended that diamonds from Chiadzwa be given the legal certification from the KP to allow their sale. This was despite evidence given by Maguwu and other human rights groups that abuses were in fact continuing.

Chikane was fingered as the instigator of Maguwus arrest, which happened shortly after a confidential meeting between the two men. Maguwu has said Chikane shopped him to the police and it was widely believed that Maguwus ongoing detention was a deliberate attempt to silence him.

Human rights groups said there was documented evidence of the massacre of over 200 illegal diggers and said soldiers were still engaging in forced labour, torture and harassment.

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