Will Zimbabwe Crisis Kill Kimberley?



Zimbabwe’s status within the Kimberley Process is causing the biggest crisis in the international certification scheme’s seven-year history, with critics raising doubts about the KP’s assurance that its diamonds are “clean.”

A June 2009 Human Rights Watch report charged that Zimbabwe government forces had killed, raped, and tortured illegal diggers in the Marange diamond fields in a crackdown beginning in autumn 2008.

Nongovernmental organizations say the abuses continue to this day and have called for the country’s suspension from the KP, which means it could not legally sell gems to member countries.

When a KP monitoring mission ­visited Zimbabwe last summer, par­ticipants found evidence of noncom­pliance with the KP. But at the KP’s official plenary in Namibia two months later, Zimbabwe’s allies, including Rus­sia and its African neighbors, blocked full removal. They argued that Marange diamonds don’t fit the KP’s official definition of “conflict diamonds”—gems mined by a rebel army in opposition to an internationally­ recognized government—even if many would consider them “blood” stones.  

Instead, the KP endorsed a “work plan” that blocked Marange diamonds from the open market unless they were approved by an appointed monitor. (See “KP Decision on Zimbabwe Stirs Controversy,” JCK, January 2010, p. 23.)

Problems began almost immediately. In May, the U.S. State Department charged that Zimbabwe had sold Marange stones in violation of the embargo. Many hoped the controversy would be cleared up when the KP monitor, former chairman Abbey Chikane, visited the country in June. But when Chikane urged in a final report that Zimbabwe be allowed to export Marange diamonds, NGOs slammed it as a “whitewash.”

Things got messier when Chikane met with local NGO worker Farai Maguwu and was allegedly handed what has been described as a confidential government communication. In his report, Chikane said he was worried he would be “questioned or arrested for possessing a document that he had no lawful right to possess,” so he notified police. Maguwu is currently under arrest in Zimbabwe.

The incident has infuriated rights groups. Partnership Africa Canada called it “an attempt to intimidate activists.”

Yet even activists acknowledge that kicking Zimbabwe out of the KP is “not ideal,” as Elly Harrowell of NGO Global Witness put it, because having a large producer outside the system could undermine the KP’s credibility.