A human rights group has asked the world diamond industry watchdog to drop Zimbabwe because of alleged abuses in its diamond fields. Human Rights Watch, which has in the past accused Zimbabwean troops of killing more than 200 people, raping women and forcing children to hunt for gems, wants the regulator to get tougher with the country this year. Researchers for the campaign group claim they have found evidence of forced work, torture, beatings and harassment by military in the Marange diamond field in eastern Zimbabwe.
The New York-based group called on the Kimberley Process – the global body for ending the trade of so-called ‘blood diamonds’ that fund fighting across Africa – to decertify diamonds from the Marange Field, from being sold internationally. Its call came yesterday as industry leaders met in Israel for a Kimberley Process meeting. Zimbabwe’s government has denied that troops raped women and forced children to search for diamonds in Marange. It argues that countries who do want Zimbabwe suspended from the approved seller list just do not want to see the country benefit from its rich al diamond deposits. Zimbabwean Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu this week accused human rights groups of ‘peddling falsehoods’ and ‘demonising’ the country. "They are working against the people of Zimbabwe. We are a principled country,” he said in a statement.
The Marange diamond fields were uncovered in 2006, when Zimbabwe's political, economic and humanitarian crisis was at its height. People rushed to the area and started digging up diamonds close to the ground. Two years later, the army took control of the Marange diamond fields.Human Rights Watch also says that smuggling from the diamond fields has risen under army rule ,with some of the income going to officials of the president, Robert Mugabe's, ZANU-PF party – long accused of trampling on human rights and democracy in the southern African country.
Investigators for both the Kimberley Process and human rights groups have amassed accounts that the military used extreme violence in its 2008 operation to seize the Marange fields, employing dogs, AK-47s and even strafing from helicopters to attack miners engaged in a diamond rush. Officers then set up their own smuggling syndicates, the groups said. “Nobody imagined that governments would be shooting their own people to get a grip on the diamonds,” said Ian Smillie, an architect of the Kimberley Process.