Zim diamonds face suspension
Windhoek -Pressure was mounting Monday on the international watchdog set up to combat so-called "conflict diamonds", the Kimberley Process (KP) to suspend Zimbabwe from the global diamond trade over alleged human rights abuses and smuggling.
Members of the KP certification scheme were gathering for their annual plenary in the Namibian coastal resort of Swakopmund, which runs until Thursday.
The certification scheme (KPCS), which was implemented in 2003 and counts Zimbabwe among its member countries, requires diamond- producing countries to have controls in place certifying shipments of rough diamonds as "conflict-free".
Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds, from its eastern diamond fields, are under the spotlight at the meeting.
A KP review mission recommended in July that Zimbabwe be barred from importing or exporting rough diamonds within the Process for at least six months "until such time as a KP team determines that minimum standards have been met."
The team's recommendations were based on its investigations of allegations of gross human rights abuses against local communities by the Zimbabwean military, which brutally took control last year of the eastern Marange diamond fields from wildcat diggers and traders.
The KP team also called for the immediate withdrawal of the military from the area but Zimbabwe's government resisted, saying only a phased withdrawal was possible.
On the eve of the KP meeting, the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, whose members include Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada and Green Advocates (Liberia), warned that failure to act decisively on Zimbabwe was compromising the KP's credibility.
"Zimbabwe must urgently implement recommendations made by the Kimberley Process Review Mission that visited the country last June," said Susanne Emond from Partnership Africa Canada. "The authorities must demilitarise the Marange diamond fields, establish robust internal controls, and hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses carried out in the area."
Gross rights abuses
Inaction on Zimbabwe was also distracting the KP from other cases that require urgent attention, such as the Cote d'Ivoire, where diamonds continue to be exported in spite of UN sanctions, the Civil Society Coalition warned.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report in June, accused the military of killing scores of wildcat diamond diggers during a crackdown on illegal mining in Marange late last year and says members of the military are now lining their pockets with the gems.
Last week, HRW claimed the government had sent more troops to the area since the KP visit, instead of beginning a withdrawal.
HRW and other groups have been calling for the definition of conflict diamonds to be expanded to include diamonds mined in conditions of gross rights abuses.
The government in Harare says there were "no killings" in Marange.