WASHINGTON—A UN-mandated global watchdog on Friday agreed to end a year of monitoring controls on Zimbabwe’s diamond trade, saying the government had allayed concerns over its remote Marange mines.
The move is likely to anger rights groups who have voiced concerns over Zimbabwe’s diamond industry amid allegations of human rights abuses after Harare’s security forces drove away small-scale miners from the fields.
Rights activists said 200 miners were killed in the 2008 crackdown, and the country was briefly suspended from the so-called Kimberley Process (KP), an 80-member group that certifies global sales of “conflict-free diamonds.”
In 2011, Zimbabwe was allowed to start selling diamonds from the Marange mines again but under a strict monitoring process imposed for a year by the global watchdog, set up to combat trade in “blood diamonds.”
“The special monitoring regime is no longer in effect,” the body’s current chairwoman, US ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, told reporters.
Zimbabwe has “put in a significant good faith effort. It did, in the opinion of the monitors who went on repeated occasions to Zimbabwe… achieve most of the things that they needed to achieve, and in some cases did better than what one might have hoped,” she added.
In another controversial move, the group’s members failed during a four-day annual meeting in Washington to agree on a broader definition of what constitutes a “blood diamond.”
“We are very disappointed on the lack of a new conflict-diamond definition, most particularly of the way that the KP appears to be unable and unwilling to adopt new language,” said Alan Martin, director of research for the Ottawa-based non-governmental organization Partnership Africa-Canada (PAC).
Currently the KP seeks to staunch the flow of rough diamonds used by rebel movements to fund wars against legitimate governments, by a tough regulation process and by certifying that gems have been legally mined and sold.
An estimated $13 billion in diamonds are mined every year. About 65 percent of those, representing some $8.5 billion, come from African nations, according to the World Diamond Council.
Since the Kimberley Process was launched in 2003 to address global concerns, sales in “blood diamonds” have fallen to one percent of international trade, compared with estimates of up to 15 percent in the 1990s.
But for the past nine months, the organization has been struggling to expand the certification scheme to cover rough diamonds used to finance or related to any armed conflict or violence.
For example, earlier this month PAC said a network of ministers and military officials had siphoned about $2 billion worth of diamonds out of Zimbabwe in the past four years.
But revenue transparency is not currently one of the criteria involved in whether a diamond can be certified as “conflict free.”
Human rights groups have become increasingly concerned that the current definition of a “blood diamond” is too narrow, and that some nations — in particular Zimbabwe — are being allowed to legally export diamonds despite reports of killings and abuse at its mines.
The KP needed to show it was keeping “abreast of changing realities, particularly in respect to criminality and violence,” said Martin.
A decade ago the issue revolved around such violent leaders as Liberia’s Charles Taylor — accused by an international court of being paid in diamonds worth millions by Sierra Leone rebels, some stuffed into mayonnaise jars.
“And now I think if you look at who is the perpetrator of violence, it’s clearly state actors and private security companies,” Martin said.