Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zimbabwe’s “Blood” Diamonds

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe held an auction for diamonds mined from their rich Marange field, all with the blessing of the world body designated to guarantee that so-called “blood” or conflict diamonds are kept out of the world’s supply – even though human rights monitors say the diamonds came from a region where soldiers force Zimbabweans, some of them children, to dig for them.

The blood diamond concept came to the world’s attention in the 1990s, when diamonds were found to be financing brutal civil wars in several African states. With their countries at war and with their economies destroyed, people turned to prospecting for diamonds to eek out a living. Often their meager finds were either purchased by the rebel factions at a fraction of their true worth, or the diamonds were stolen from the prospectors, or the rebels skipped the middleman entirely and just used forced labor to gather the diamonds. Eventually, world opinion turned against the blood diamond trade and a solution was sought. The diamond industry came up with the Kimberley Process – a scheme that was suppose to track each diamond from the time it was dug up out of the ground until it was sold to a consumer, as a way of keeping blood diamonds out of the world supply.

Wednesday’s sale in Zimbabwe was given its blessing by Kimberley observers – according to their representatives, the diamonds sold came from two mines in Zimbabwe’s sprawling Marange field that were fenced off from the rest of the field and that operated under the “minimum international standards.” But Marange is notorious for its alleged use of forced labor, including some at the hands of the Zimbabwean government, since the family of President Robert Mugabe is said to have extensive holdings in the Marange fields. Critics say it would be fairly easy for illegally mined diamonds to be slipped into the “fenced in” mines and then shipped out as Kimberley-approved stones. To make matters worse, Stephane Chardon, chairman of the Kimberley group noted to the Associated Press that the Kimberley Process is designed to prevent diamonds from being sold by rebel movements to fund civil wars, the Process isn’t meant to punish sitting governments for their labor practices.

In other words, while the Zimbabwe sale lives up to the letter of the Kimberley Process law, it certainly does not live up to its spirit. The sale of diamonds is incredibly important for Zimbabwe. The country is estimated to have just shy of $2 billion worth of diamonds in stock, their sale would pay off one-third of the national debt wracked up by Zimbabwe under the disastrous fiscal policies of President Mugabe during the past decade.

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