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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Zimbabwe: Diamond field massacre

For 18 years, Global Witness has run campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses. They have been deeply involved in efforts to stop marketing in conflict (or blood) diamonds that are used to fuel violent conflict and human rights abuses. After years of campaigning and negotiations between diamond producing and trading countries, industry and civil society, the international diamond certification scheme known as the Kimberley Process was established in 2003.

In June 2010, Global Witness published Return of the Blood Diamond: The deadly race to control Zimbabwe's new-found diamond wealth, claiming that Zimbabwe's ruling party and military elite were "seeking to capture the country's diamond wealth through a combination of state-sponsored violence and the legally questionable introduction of opaque joint-venture companies."

"Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields," they wrote, "stretch over 66,000 hectares in the east of the country. Although estimates of the reserves contained in this area vary wildly, some have suggested that it could be home to one of the world's richest diamond deposits. Since the discovery of alluvial diamond deposits in 2006 in Marange, people living there have borne the brunt of a series of extreme and brutal measures taken by state authorities to secure control of the resource."

But it wasn't until August 2011 that the extent of the human rights abuses in the Marange fields became known. Then, the BBC and the UK television program, Panorama, reported on interviews with former soldiers who worked at a camp in the Zengeni area of the fields. The former soldiers described rape, beatings, mock drownings and burnings that took place on a regular basis.

The Panorama story explained that Marange diamonds have been banned from international markets since 2009, due to the devastating attempts by the Zimbabwean government to clear illegal diamond panners from the area in 2008, following the contested presidential elections. At the end of October that year, about 1,500 troops surrounded the diamond fields on foot and by helicopter, gunning down not only those who were mining for diamonds but also the 1,000 or so residents of the makeshift town nearby. This was part of "Operation Hakudzokwe" (Operation "You Shall Never Return"), a three-week attack in which people were beaten, raped, mauled by dogs and shot. Many were gunned down as they attempted to flee.

Based on testimony from 53 eye witnesses, some of whom were perpetrators, including military officers, the BBC wrote, "The massacre investigated by the BBC took place in late October 2008 when Zimbabwe was in the depths of economic crisis. Thousands of civilians had flocked to the diamond fields in the hope of finding gems.

"Among the victims were women and children, some working in a makeshift market which had sprung up to sell food and clothes to the miners. Unknown to them, several weeks before the killings began, the military had started laying a circular trap around the civilians. They laid strings of mines and ultimately stationed armoured vehicles, mounted soldiers and an infantry battalion in a circular pattern around the 2.5km area." (BBC News)

Think Africa Press wrote that "between 69-105 bodies from the 2008 massacre were buried in a mass grave in Mutare, one of the towns nearest to the diamond fields. A worker at the cemetery described the burial: "The body parts were packed in black plastic bags. You could actually see the bones piercing through the plastic. Blood was dripping everywhere. It was disgusting." Other bodies were left in shallow graves nearer Marange, some were loosely covered by leaves, whereas others were left in clusters by the sides of fields.

In June 2011, civil society organizations from West Africa, Central and Southern Africa, Europe and North America walked out of the Kimberley Process meeting in Kinshasa in protest of its failure to address human rights abuses associated with the diamond trade in particular.

In Zimbabwe, civil society remains committed to preventing conflict diamonds from entering international markets, to addressing challenges facing the artisanal diamond mining sector and to being a voice for communities in diamond producing countries and consumers.

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