News reports that the European Union is to lift its ban on Zimbabwe's 'blood diamonds' despite torture claims (Telegraph.co.uk, 08/08/11) are very disturbing and could have serious implications.
Zimbabwe's diamond civil society will be justified to feel betrayed by the European Union and its partners if the ban is lifted without a serious commitment by Zimbabwe to demilitarise Marange diamond fields and probe the massacres of 2008 and the torture camps.
According to the BBC panorama programme broadcast worldwide on Monday 8th August 2011, 'victims spoke of massacre in Zimbabwe diamond fields'. One of the torture camps the BBC identified, called Diamond Base, is about a mile from Mbada mine.
Most shocking is the claim by the British Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham that his country supports exports from two Marange mines that met Kimberley standards, 'subject to ongoing monitoring' (New York Times, 08/08/11).
Amazingly, one of the two mines is Mbada run by Robert Mhlanga, a Mugabe ally who is on the EU and US sanctions list. Similarly The Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corporation which partners Mbada is also on the EU and US sanctions list.
Any premature lifting of the Marange gems ban would be a big slap in the face of human rights organisations which are calling for justice and the upholding of the rule of law as a pre-condition for exports from the controversial sites.
One of the serious implications of lifting the ban on 'blood diamonds' is its threat to the ethical jewellery trade as echoed by Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness when she said: "At this point, the consumer has no idea what they're getting at jewellery stores. And retailers have no way of telling consumers if a diamond has been produced without human rights abuses" (theecologist.org, 08/08/11).
As a result, there is now a risk of the Kimberley Process splitting into 'the ethical and the non ethical trading blocs' with big consequences for the world diamond industry. A notable development is the launch Wednesday 10 August by the Rapaport Group of "three important initiatives" (Diamonds.net, 10/08/11).
The initiatives comprise a Diamond Price Index (RAPI), the Rapaport Diamond Fund to provide 'investment grade diamonds' and the Rapaport Ethical Certification. In a statement the Group said:
"The Rapaport Group will be introducing and implementing a certification system for ethical diamonds. The system will track diamonds from the source to polished diamonds and then on to finished jewellery."
Zimbabweans would like to see the whole country benefiting from the lucrative proceeds from the Marange diamond fields which up-to now have been shrouded in secrecy amidst on-going rights abuses.
However, the next few months are critical to the survival of the Kimbeley Process whose credibility has been severely dented by disclosures of torture camps at Marange diamond fields. People will keep asking: Is the EU trivialising human rights abuse in Zimbabwe?
Contact author: zimanalysis2009 [at] gmail [dot] com