Zim army guilty - HRW

2009-06-26 11:02

Johannesburg - Human Rights Watch on Friday accused Zimbabwe's armed forces, under the control of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-pf, of torture and forced labour in the eastern Marange diamond fields.

A new 62-page report documents the killing of more than 200 people by the army in a takeover of the eastern fields last year, saying it believes the illegal diamond trade is a likely revenue source for senior Zanu-pf officials.

"The police and army have turned this peaceful area into a nightmare of lawlessness and horrific violence," said Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa director in a statement.

"Some income from the fields has been funnelled to high-level party members of Zanu-pf, which is now part of a power-sharing government that urgently needs revenue as the country faces a dire economic crisis," the rights group said.

Serious abuses

The report, based on more than 100 interviews done in February, called for Zimbabwe's new government to remove the army.

"Under military control, hundreds of children and adults endure forced labour 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," said HRW.

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe's deputy mining minister denied any killings by security forces in Marange at a meeting in Namibia of the Kimberley Process, the global scheme to curb the flow of "blood diamonds".

"Contrary to allegations in the media, nobody was killed by security forces during an operation at Marange, where about 30 000 people descended onto the alluvial mining field," Murisi Zwizwai told 200 delegates.

The government had carried out "a special operation to flush out the illegal diamond miners and to bring order and sanity to the area", he said.

However, HRW said the military killings had followed "serious abuses" by police sent to Marange to end illicit smuggling shortly after diamonds were discovered in 2006.

Rights violations

"With the complicity of Zanu-pf,  Marange has become a zone of lawlessness and impunity, a microcosm of the chaos and desperation that currently pervade Zimbabwe," said the report.

"Illegal diamond trading has not stopped; it continues to flourish, now with the military largely in control. Similarly, human rights violations are also continuing."

While Zimbabwe's financially-crippled government was lobbying for donor aid, HRW said millions of dollars of potential revenue were being siphoned off in Marange.

It called on South Africa to ban Marange diamonds and for the Kimberley Process to immediately suspend Zimbabwe from participation in the certification scheme until reported violations were addressed and measures put in place to tackle diamond smuggling, stop abuses and regulate the industry.

Zimbabwe's ruler since 1980, Mugabe in February awarded the defence and national security portfolios to his Zanu-pf in a unity cabinet with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai nearly a year after disputed polls.

The home affairs post, which oversees the police, was split between the parties of the former rivals.