Zimbabwe’s Diamond Killing Fields Raise Ghosts of Past

Rights advocates are urging the Zimbabwean government and international community to act to end forced labor and bloodshed related to diamond-mining operations in the country’s east.

“The police and army have turned this peaceful area into a nightmare of lawlessness and horrific violence. Zimbabwe’s new government should get the army out of the fields, put a stop to the abuse, and prosecute those responsible,” HRW’s Africa director, Georgette Gagnon, said in a statement.

Military forces are involved in a systematically bloody campaign to control diamond mines in Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange district, Human Rights Watch charges in a June 26 report, “Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe.”

Researchers allege that the military swept into the area in 2008, killing 200 villagers and beating villagers into submission. HRW contends that mining operations now involve forced child labor and continued beatings, torture and other coercive measures.

HRW further charges that funds derived from the sale of Marange diamonds — estimated to be worth $200 million monthly — feed the coffers of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. Zimbabwean officials counter that the military presence in the area is merely a bulwark against illegal mining.

With the formation of a coalition government earlier this year, Zimbabwe is just beginning a tentative exit from a massive downward economic spiral that saw a decade of debilitating hyperinflation, massive unemployment and the spread of food insecurity. Zimbabwean officials — particularly former opposition leader and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai — have been seeking international aid, but found firm resistance in many Western capitals to providing funds before major reforms are initiated.

While the Marange situation might not meet the criteria of conflict — or “blood” — diamonds in order to be monitored under the Kimberly Process, it certainly fuels abuse. HRW wants the definition of the Kimberly Process — which aims to prevent diamond sales that help drive conflict — expanded to include diamonds mined through government “repression and violent abuses.”

Investigators tied to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme began a fact-finding mission to the area last Friday for the third time since 2006.