Civil society is calling for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Kimberley Process, an international certification scheme to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the multibillion dollar market.
Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that led the campaign to set up the system, said in a statement on 12 December: "Members of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition are calling upon the Kimberley Process to suspend Zimbabwe from the rough diamond certification scheme, in light of recent violence used by the government to take control of the Chiadzwa diamond fields [in Manicaland Province]."
The Kimberley Process participants are governments, the diamond industry, and concerned NGOs. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was launched in January 2003 to strangle the trade in conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, which are used to fund conflict.
In recent weeks President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF government launched "Operation No Return", in which as many as 50 diamond diggers have been killed, according to reports.
Most of the diamond fields are located in the Marange area, about 60km southwest of the provincial capital, Mutare, near the Mozambique border. The state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation is responsible for mining the diamonds, which are marketed by another state entity, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ).
The US government has targeted both organisations with sanctions, in response to the recent elections that were widely condemned as neither free nor fair, for "undermining of democratic processes and institutions in Zimbabwe".
"The Kimberley Process must take a stand against the harnessing of diamonds for systematic abuses by a pariah regime," said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness.
"We can no longer assume that Zimbabwe has the ability or the ethical standards needed to control its diamonds in ways that conform to the principles espoused by the Kimberley Process."
|Revenues from Zimbabwe's diamonds - whether mined and marketed within or outside formal government control - are helping to prop up Robert Mugabe's repressive and increasingly violent regime|
Zimbabwe's government has few remaining sources of foreign currency, its economy is collapsing, unemployment is above 80 percent, food shortages afflict nearly half the population, and the last official figure for annual inflation, released in July 2008, put the rate at 231 million percent.
"Revenues from Zimbabwe's diamonds — whether mined and marketed within or outside formal government control — are helping to prop up Robert Mugabe's repressive and increasingly violent regime," Global Witness said.
There were also indications that "Large volumes of Zimbabwean diamonds [are] being smuggled to other countries in contravention of the Kimberley Process. In recent months, smugglers have been arrested in India and in Dubai with large quantities of diamonds, reportedly of Zimbabwean origin," the organisation noted.
"The Kimberley Process was designed to halt and prevent conflict diamonds through an international regulatory regime based on internal controls in each participating country," said Ian Smillie, of Partnership Africa Canada, an NGO promoting sustainable development in Africa.
"The perpetration of human rights abuses and indiscriminate extrajudicial killing by governments in pursuit of Kimberley Process objectives is little better than the problem the scheme seeks to end. The Kimberley Process should act to condemn and prevent such violence."