By Andrew Kunambura
An alliance of international civil society organisations affiliated to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) has urged the grouping of diamond-trading nations to classify Zimbabwe’s gemstones as conflict diamonds in order to prevent their sale on the formal market.
This follows the incident in January this year in which daring gunmen in military gear overpowered Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC)’s security staff in Chiadzwa diamond fields in Manicaland and held them hostage movie-style before making good their escape with valuable gemstones at midnight on January 15.
This was at the height of a violent crackdown on protesters by soldiers and police which left at least 17 people dead.
The brazen robbery added impetus to calls for the KPCS to widen the definition of conflict diamonds to also cover minerals being mined in Zimbabwe, which they said are being used to finance President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruthless suppression of dissent. Conflict or “blood” diamonds are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, according to the World Diamond Council, which represents the commercial diamond trade.
The United Nations defines conflict diamonds as “. . . diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”
The KPCS begna when southern African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, in May 2000 to discuss ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and ensure that diamond purchases were not funding violence.
The result was an agreement by the UN, European Union, the governments of 74 countries, the World Diamond Council representing the industry and a number of interest groups such as Global Witness.
They established the KPCS, whereby members are required to certify that all rough diamond exports are produced through legitimate mining and sales activities and are conflict-free.
In a communique issued at the end of their meeting in New York, United States last Friday, the civil society organisations — coalescing under the banner of Kimberly Process Civil Society Coalition — highlighted the involvement of the army in the mining of diamonds in Zimbabwe, as well as Angola, DRC and Venezuela. Zimbabwean Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu presented the case for Zimbabwe, according to the communique.
“The Civil Society Coalition highlighted the dangerous implications of the involvement of military officials in diamond mining or trading for national and international stability. NGO, media and expert reports have raised concerns about such issues in countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, DRC and Venezuela.”
“The KP civil society coalition’s representative Farai Maguwu of the Zimbabwean Centre for Natural Resource Governance highlighted civil society alarm over the circumstances surrounding diamond mining in a number of countries, referring to repeated reports of systematic human rights abuses in the diamond fields of Zimbabwe and Angola, including extreme violence leading to the assassination of poor villagers, who dig alluvial diamonds for basic survival because they have no alternative means of living. Presenting the KP Civil Society stance on Kimberley Process efficacy from a Zimbabwean perspective, Farai Maguwu also illustrated corrupt business practices among certain industry players in the diamond sector,” the communique reads.
At the same meeting, the communique reads, International Peace Information Service (IPIS) director Filip Reyniers proposed that the UN expand the definition of conflict diamonds to incorporate those mined with the involvement of the army in any given country — drawing from the experience of the Central African Republic.
“IPIS director Filip Reyniers presented on some of the lessons that can be learned from the conflict diamond issues affecting the Central African Republic (CAR). These include the need to expand the definition of what constitutes a conflict diamond — a restriction that impeded KP intervention in the CAR to prevent a brutal part-diamond funded rebel coup in 2013,” the communique reads.
Reyniers also lamented the lack of deeper engagement in the KPCS by the UN, saying: “If the UN does not provide the necessary oversight, the KP risks to focus more on continued trade than on peace and security-focused interventions.”
“It is time to move the KP beyond noble words. If the KP does not both reform and start seriously implementing existing recommendations, it will truly remain nothing more than a gilded talking shop. This represents a woeful abuse of consumer confidence — a usurpation of the very tool consumers are referred to in seeking to ensure that their purchases intrinsically reflect the beauty and purity that they are supposed to represent,” he added.
This is not the first time Zimbabwe finds itself at the centre of a diamond ban lobby. Following the rise in the trade of blood diamonds between 2008 and 2009, Zimbabwe was facing expulsion from the KPCS, but a meeting in Namibia in October 2009 recommended against the ban.