Every year, a handful of courageous individuals receive the Alison Des Forges Award from Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights group. The award, according to Human Rights Watch, “celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.” This year, Human Rights Watch has chosen seven human rights advocates from around the world to receive the award. We are pleased to report that one of these advocates, Farai Maguwu, is the director of an organization we are supporting through our non-profit fund.
The award recognizes Farai’s tireless and selfless efforts to monitor human rights conditions in the Marange diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe. In 2008, Zimbabwean armed forces seized control of the Marange diamonds fields in an effort to extract the mineral wealth for top military officials and political allies of President Robert Mugabe. Hundreds of local diamond miners were killed. Other local residents have been beaten, tortured, raped, and forced to mine for diamonds. The group Farai leads, the Center for Research and Development (CRD), is the primary local organization investigating these abuses, which continue to this day.
Farai’s monitoring efforts have exposed him to great personal danger. As might be expected, the information Farai is providing to the world is extremely embarrassing to President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean government. Trying to intimidate Farai into stopping his work, Zimbabwean police raided Farai’s office and home in May 2010. Farai’s family was beaten and one of his brothers was tortured. Farai escaped the raids, but was arrested a few days later and indicted on charges of “communicating and publishing falsehoods” intended to harm Zimbabwe. If convicted, he faced a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Fortunately, Farai’s arbitrary detention provoked an international outcry. Amnesty International named him a “prisoner of conscience” and the international press reported on his detention. After keeping Farai in prison for more than a month, depriving him of blankets and needed medicines, Zimbabwean authorities gave in to political pressure. Farai was released, and in October 2010 the charges against him were dropped completely. Amazingly, Farai has gone right back to work—despite all the personal risks and even though the Zimbabwean government is still harassing him. Only a week ago, Zimbabwean authorities barred him from leaving the country to attend a human rights conference in Ireland.
At Brilliant Earth, we agree with Human Rights Watch that Farai’s fearless advocacy deserves recognition and support. Only a few days prior to Farai’s arrest in June 2010, we were in touch with him about making a donation to the CRD. (Through our non-profit fund, we donate five percent of our profits to groups working with communities harmed by the diamond trade.) With Farai free from jail, our donation has gone forward. The CRD is using Brilliant Earth funding to monitor ongoing human rights abuses and smuggling in the Marange diamond fields. We believe that the CRD’s work is now more important than ever, especially in light of recent revelations that the Zimbabwean army is running torture camps for diamond miners.
Donations and awards, of course, cannot directly stop the worst human rights abuses. People willing to risk their lives—people like Farai—are often the essential ingredient. This year’s recipients of the Alison Des Forges Award include an Egyptian activist who has been a leading voice in the Arab Spring; a Mexican human rights advocate who has exposed human rights abuses in Mexico’s drug wars; and four other valiant individuals, including Farai. We think that Farai’s work to stop human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields makes him well worthy of being honored among this remarkable and distinguished group.