Rapaport Magazine

Georgette Gagnon Presents Human Rights Watch Findings

Rapaport International Diamond Conference 2009

By Margo DeAngelo
RAPAPORT... "Even if companies care more about their own interests rather than principles, they still have plenty of reasons to make the places they do business and the products they sell more attractive to buyers and consumers,” said Georgette Gagnon, director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), at the recent Rapaport International Diamond Conference (IDC) 2009. Her presentation began the fourth session of the IDC conference, which focused on human rights and the diamond industry.

HRW investigates claims of human rights abuses and publishes the findings. Building on years of work in Zimbabwe, HRW conducted research there in early 2009, investigating allegations of abuses connected to mining in the Marange diamond fields in Chiadzwa. HRW workers interviewed more than 100 people: local miners, police, soldiers, community leaders, victims, medical staff, lawyers and diamond industry stakeholders.

The report on their findings, “Diamonds in the Rough,” can be found on the group’s website, www.hrw.org.“Since 2006, Zimbabwe’s police and army have used brutal force to control access to diamond fields in Marange. Police and soldiers have killed, tortured, beaten and harassed thousands of people there,” Gagnon stated.

More recently, in October 2008, “the army killed more than 200 people,” Gagnon said. HRW believes that to this day, the government continues to engage in such behavior. Attesting to the “forced labor of hundreds of children” Gagnon called the area “like a huge labor camp.”

The violence is perpetrated in order to obtain access to the fields for high-level members of the country’s former ruling party, ZANU-PF, led by Robert Mugabe, who use these diamond riches to solidify their repressive hold on power, Gagnon noted.

“We gave a copy of our report to the Kimberley Process (KP) people, who did their own mission in Marange to assess Zimbabwe’s compliance with KP standards. They endorsed our findings, if not all of our recommendations,” Gagnon recognized.  

HRW is pressing the KP to release its full report on the situation on or before its next plenary meeting in November 2009 and suspend Zimbabwe’s membership in the body. “Otherwise, our fear is that the whole process risks becoming irrelevant and toothless,” Gagnon reasoned. Suspension would mean the decertification of all diamonds originating from Zimbabwe, including those from the River Ranch mine and Rio Tinto’s Murowa mine, both of which are KP compliant.

Gagnon named two ways the diamond industry can help the people of the Marange diamond fields. “Change the definition of a conflict diamond to include conflicts of all sorts and to explicitly acknowledge human rights as part of that definition,” she urged. Gagnon also suggested, “The diamond industry can cooperate with governments in exposing the front companies and middle men who get illicit diamonds to market.” When asked how to determine when to “pull the plug” on a country, Gagnon replied, “The vast majority of Zimbabweans will not lose if Zimbabwe diamonds are banned.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2009. To subscribe click here.

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