Diamonds & Human Rights

Background: Zimbabwe's Marange Diamond Mines

"Zimbabwean diamonds are no longer 'clean.' They bear the blood of Zimbabweans, shot down by their own government. They are produced from mines that benefit political and military gangsters, and they are smuggled out of the country by the bucket-load." -
Partnership Africa Canada, (PAC) March 2009

Zimbabwe, home to 11.9 million people accounts for an estimated 0.4 percent of global diamond production. Yet this once thriving landlocked country located in the southern region of Africa has become increasingly dependent on its diamond exports to support its collapsed economy.

Partnership Africa Canada, a leading regional NGO has reported that driven by desperation and corruption, Zimbabwe's diamond industry has swung out of control. "The government has expropriated diamond lands and companies without due process and awarded the prizes to ZANU-PF cronies and to the military. It has used brute force to clear the diamond fields…murdering dozens of people in the process. Increasing military control in almost all of the diamond mines, and over the Ministry suggests that a new conflict scenario may be developing."

According to figures by PAC, diamonds are currently Zimbabwe's ninth largest export valued at $33 million U.S dollars a year. Since 2003, there has been an unexplainable 1.33 million carat gap between what the country has mined and what has been exported. Valued at $150 million, it is widely believed by experts that these diamonds have been illegally smuggled out of the country.

Until 2006, most diamonds in mineral rich Zimbabwe were an "accidental find." The discovery of the Marange diamonds fields in 2006, however, created a "frenzied diamond rush," by starving and impoverished miners desperately seeking relief from the country's ongoing humanitarian crises. A subsequent thriving black market ensued with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 illegal artisanal miners working the land and illegally selling their diamond finds to dealers outside the country. By 2008, the Zimbabwean government, led by lifelong dictator, Robert Mugabe, decided to crackdown on the illicit trade and thus stop the flow of revenue leaving the country.

The government offensive to remove the illegal diggers was brutal, swift and bloody. Credible accounts have documented the "army and police using extreme force, including two helicopters, attack dogs and AK-47's against illegal miners"
(NY Times, "Africa's Diamond Trade under Scrutiny" Nov. 3, 2009). The killings became a daily occurrence as the military successfully seized control of the mines and murdered hundreds of miners in the process. "Some victims told investigators that military officers had repeatedly raped them" (NY Times).

Rather than safeguard the fields from illegal mining, the military, backed by the government is now complicit in mining the fields with forced labor from the local villages. The military is running fully operational diamond smuggling syndicates and Mugabe has rewarded them by increasing their presence in the area, rather than demilitarizing it as the government once claimed.

The situation is worsened by a severe humanitarian crises brought on by Mugabe's policies which have bankrupted the economy, collapsed the health care system and created severe food shortages. Mineral exports provide the last remaining source of viable income for the troubled and corrupt government.

The council of European Foreign Ministers recently expressed concern that the "growing trade in illicit diamonds is providing financial support to the regime."

"The situation is no different when the perpetrators belong to the police and army of a government like Zimbabwe's-nor is its' name-blood diamonds."
(PAC, March 2009)
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