The controversial ban on Zimbabwe's exporting of “blood” diamonds is over, according to Deputy Mines Minister Gift Chimanikire, who insists the country has been given written permission to hold two diamond auctions this year by the Kimberley Process (KP), an international body set up to monitor the distribution of conflict minerals. Members of the international diamond trading community and human rights groups have responded to this claim with confusion because as of today KP spokespersons are denying that any such permission has been given.
“No decision has been made yet,” said the new KP chairperson Yamba Mathieu Lapfa Lambang of the Democratic Republic of the Congo-which took over the role as chair of the conflict diamond watchdog organization from Israel on January 1, 2011-as reported by Rapaport News.
Chimanikire says that he recently received a letter from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme that allows it to trade diamonds mined between 2006 and 2009, however according to the KP, their decision is still awaiting approval of an amendment to the agreement proposal before the diamond sales get the go-ahead.
The blood diamond controversy in Zimbabwe is centered around the Marange diamond fields, a prolific and widespread area of small-scale mines. These mines are certainly not insignificant producers on a global scale, reported to be “the biggest diamond find in more than a century.”
Numerous human rights groups have sited abuses at these mines, many of them centered around smuggling, illegal mining operations, corruption and abuses by government forces. According to a press release issued in November 2010 by Human Rights Watch “The Zimbabwean Army killed hundreds of people in its takeover of the fields two years ago, and diamond proceeds continue to enrich one of the longest-serving tyrants on the African continent.”
At a special meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, in July 2010, Kimberley Process members agreed to permit Zimbabwe to export two shipments of diamonds under supervision of the body's monitors, on condition that the body would investigate conditions in the Marange fields. The agreement also tied all future exports of diamonds to clear and measurable progress in ending smuggling and abuses, and allowed for local civil society groups to participate in monitoring progress in the fields.
The KP team sent in to review conditions in the fields in August reported routine obstruction by government officials from conducting its activities and claimed it was unable to gather crucial information about conditions in the majority of diamond fields. Because of this lack of substantive information, as of the November KP meeting in Jerusalem, no decisions were made regarding the resumption of trade and the ban officially remained in place until further notice.
The KP Chairman set a January 10th deadline to receive a response from all KP members regarding the new amended agreement. According to the KP spokesperson, if and when the amendment is accepted, the revised draft will be forwarded to Zimbabwe officials for approval. As of yet, no information has been released to the public regarding this decision.
The near future will be a decisive time for the diamond trade in Zimbabwe as global market awaits verification on the validity of these claims by government officials. In spite of continuing accusations of human rights violations, many countries, including China and India, are anxious to initiate trading for rough Zimbabwean diamonds.
The issue of Zimbabwe selling the Marange diamonds has divided the KP along political lines. Western countries led by the United States, Germany and Australia, as well as human rights groups that are members of the organization, are calling for the extension of a ban. However, many African countries and others, including Russia, have opposed calls to ban the diamonds.