RAPAPORT… Human Rights Watch published a report claiming that Zimbabwe’s police and army used brutal force to control access to the Marange diamond area. “The police and army have turned this peaceful area into a nightmare of lawlessness and horrific violence,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabwe’s new government should get the army out of the fields, put a stop to the abuse and prosecute those responsible.”
This week, during the midyear Kimberley Process review meeting in Namibia, Murisi Zwizwai, Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of mines and mining development, said, “Contrary to allegations in the media, nobody was killed by security forces during the operation at Marange, where about 30,000 people had descended onto the alluvial mining field.” Human Rights Watch claims, however, that in more than 100 one-on-one interviews it conducted in February, locals in the region consistently stated that police officers who were deployed in the fields from November 2006 through October 2008 to end diamond smuggling “were in fact responsible for serious abuses — killings, torture, beatings and harassment.”
“Three policemen on horseback raided us while we worked in the diamond fields and immediately fired their shotguns at us,” one miner told Human Rights Watch, describing a raid by a police “reaction team.” “I was shot in the left thigh. Two of my friends were shot and killed during that raid,” according to the Human Rights Watch interview.
The report also examined the army’s takeover of the Marange diamond fields on October 27, 2008, specifically to end diamond smuggling, and described how military helicopters used mounted automatic rifles to drive out local miners. “Soldiers indiscriminately fired live ammunition and tear gas into the diamond fields and into surrounding villages. On the ground, hundreds of soldiers indiscriminately fired AK-47 assault rifles, without giving any warning. In the panic and ensuing stampede, some miners were trapped and died in tunnels. Over three weeks, the military assault resulted in the brutal deaths of more than 200 people. Soldiers forced miners to dig mass graves for many of the dead.”
Human Rights Watch’s research suggests that revenue from the diamonds enriched senior officials of the ruling ZANU-PF party, as well as providing an important revenue stream for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which has underwritten military operations. The group claimed that army brigades were still being rotated into Marange. “Under military control, hundreds of children and adults endure forced labor for mining syndicates, while soldiers continue to torture and beat villagers, accusing them of either being or supporting illegal miners who are not working for the army.”
Human Rights Watch concluded that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme must press Zimbabwe to end the smuggling of diamonds, and ensure that all diamonds from Marange are lawfully mined, documented, and exported in compliance. The group also said the term ‘conflict diamonds’ should be broadened to include diamonds mined in the context of serious and systematic human rights abuses.
“A very clear statement by South Africa calling for a ban on Marange diamonds would not only protect Zimbabweans from abuse in the Marange diamond fields, but help South Africa to protect its own diamond industry,” said Gagnon. “South Africa needs to press Zimbabwe to improve the transparency and accountability of its diamond trade.”