Amnesty International protests killings in Congo diamond fields

Security guards in Congo’s lucrative Mbuji-Mayi diamond fields shoot dead dozens of suspected illegal miners—including children—every year, apparently with complete impunity, Amnesty International reportedly said Tuesday.

“Every day, blood is being spilled in the diamond fields … and nobody in the international community is taking any notice,” London-based human rights group reportedly said. “Unarmed civilians, including children, are regularly being killed in cold blood, but no one is ever brought to justice.”

Most killings are carried out by guards at concessions run by the state-owned MIBA diamond mining company, headquartered in the central city of Mbuji-Mayi, Amnesty said in a report on the diamond industry in the parts of war-divided Congo that the government still controls, The Associated Press reports.

Amnesty also accused government-allied Zimbabwean soldiers, currently withdrawing from Congo after a series of peace accords signed by the warring sides, of participating in the killings, the AP reports.

Minister of Mines Ambroise Mbaka Kawaya acknowledged there were regular shootings at the concessions, but denied MIBA guards were involved, the AP reports.

“There are armed intruders who enter this concession every night,” he reportedly said. “Even children enter it to dig and search for diamonds at night. So the police or the soldiers open fire.”

While Amnesty acknowledged some illegal miners are armed, it said most are not, the AP reports.

“Shooting them dead, in such circumstances, amounts to extrajudicial execution,” Amnesty reportedly said.

Suspects are routinely held in unofficial detention centers with poor sanitary conditions that amount to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Amnesty reportedly said. In April, the average age of detainees at one center was about 15.

Amnesty said Congolese authorities have intimidated and detained local journalists and human rights activists who denounced abuses in the Mbuji-Mayi diamond fields, the AP reports.

Congo’s war began in August 1998, when Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to back Congolese rebels seeking to overthrow Laurent Kabila, the father of current President Joseph Kabila.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent forces to support the government. The resulting conflict divided Congo, Africa’s third-largest country, into government- and rebel-held zones.