Human rights observers agree: diamonds from Zimbabwe are blood diamonds. Zimbabwean diamonds are tainted by human rights violations including torture, forced labor, child labor, sexual violence, and murder. They are also helping to keep a brutal dictator in power. Unfortunately, the discovery of a massive diamond deposit is about to make Zimbabwe the world’s leading diamond producer. Unless something is done, blood diamonds from Zimbabwe will soon flood the market.
Sadly, the Kimberley Process (KP), the international diamond certification scheme created to halt the blood diamond trade, has failed to put a stop to Zimbabwe’s horrendous mining practices. The KP certifies Zimbabwean diamonds as “conflict free,” allowing human rights abuses to continue and giving its stamp of approval to torture, rape, and murder. As a result, consumers are at a greater risk than ever of buying a blood diamond.
1. Diamond fields in Zimbabwe could be the most valuable ever discovered.
In 2006, villagers in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe discovered a massive diamond deposit. By some estimates, the Marange diamond fields could produce as much as 40 million carats a year—worth about $2 billion, or over 10% of the global diamond supply. The total value of Marange gems may be as high as $800 billion, making the Marange diamond fields the richest ever found.
If predictions are correct, Zimbabwe will become the world’s leading diamond exporter within a few years. Zimbabwe’s astonishing diamond resources could help lift millions of people out of poverty and transform Zimbabwe’s economy. But in Zimbabwe’s case, such vast diamond wealth has led to human misery on an equally grand scale.
2. Zimbabwe’s diamonds are linked to grave human rights abuses including torture, forced labor, sexual violence, and murder.
In 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized control of the Marange diamond fields, at times shooting live ammunition from helicopters. More than 200 local miners were massacred. After the takeover, the army began running mining operations itself. Local residents, including children, were forced to mine for diamonds in slave-like conditions. Killings, beatings, torture, and sexual violence were used by the army to keep local residents working and maintain a climate of fear.
Despite widespread international attention, little has changed. The military has not withdrawn from the Marange diamond fields. Serious human rights abuses continue, including forced labor, torture, beatings, and harassment. In October 2011, the BBC confirmed that the Zimbabwean military runs secret camps where diamond miners who fail to hand over their earnings are tortured, beaten, and raped.
3. Zimbabwean diamonds are helping to sustain a brutal dictator.
Top military officials and political allies of President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s despotic leader, are smuggling Marange diamonds out of the country and keeping the profits for themselves. Mugabe is depending on diamond revenues to fill the coffers of his political party, ZANU-PF, as national elections near.
In power since 1980, Mugabe has used his office to torture, harass, and kill his political opponents. His wrongheaded policies have led to mass impoverishment, the outbreak of epidemics, and the death of thousands of people. In 2010, the United Nations rated Zimbabwe last on its index of human development. Mugabe is considered a target for prosecution for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court.
4. The Kimberley Process certifies blood diamonds from Zimbabwe as “conflict free."
In November 2009, the KP placed a temporary ban on the export of Marange diamonds. Zimbabwe was asked to withdraw its army from the Marange diamond fields, end human rights abuses, and curb smuggling.
Zimbabwe clearly has not complied with KP demands. To add further insult, in June 2010, Zimbabwean police raided the offices of an organization working directly with the KP to document human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields. Farai Maguwu, the organization’s director, was arrested and jailed. He was later released, but only after his designation as a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International.
Despite Zimbabwe’s complete lack of compliance, the KP has bowed to political pressure. In November 2011, it lifted the ban on Marange diamonds. Zimbabwe is now permitted to export these blood diamonds with “conflict free” certification. As diamond industry veteran Martin Rapaport notes, “Instead of eliminating blood diamonds, the KP has become a process for the systematic legalization and legitimization of blood diamonds.”
5. Zimbabwean diamonds are about to flood jewelers' inventories.
The KP’s decision in 2011 opens the floodgates to blood diamonds from Zimbabwe. Since 2006, Zimbabwe has stockpiled an estimated $1.7 billion in Marange diamonds. These diamonds are now being released into the international diamond supply. In future years, as production ramps up, more blood diamonds worth billions of dollars will be entering the diamond supply chain.
Safeguards to prevent U.S. consumers from purchasing blood diamonds remain inadequate. A study of jewelry retailers found that 56% of jewelers do not even have an auditing procedure in place to prevent the retail of conflict diamonds. Those jewelers claiming to sell “conflict free” diamonds almost always rely on the faulty KP certification. In fact, KP certification provides no protection against the purchase of a blood diamond from Zimbabwe.