According to research by US-based policy analyst, Taya Weiss, "trillions of dollars are siphoned through lawful and unlawful transactions involving diamonds. She also suggested, rather more controversially, that "terrorists and smugglers are hard to find precisely because they are protected by powerful interests". Yet the situation playing itself out in Zimbabwe appears to vindicate Taya's hypotheses - if one examines the involvement of government in the mineral sector, specifically in the Marange district.
Since the discovery of diamonds in that area a few years ago, there has been much controversy surrounding mining and smuggling of diamonds, leading to the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). It got suspended in August 2009, subsequent to the visit by the KPCS team to the Marange fields. This was partly because of reports that government officials and the army were implicated in the illegal mining and smuggling of diamonds from that region. It was also attributed to allegations of human rights violations.
Since KPCS ‘s credibility has been questioned a number of times by different stake holders, one wonders if the suspension of Zimbabwe will somehow help the scheme to recuperate its confidence or it will again show its inability to solve problems regarding suspicious diamond trading in its member states. Initiated by South Africa in May 2000, the KPCS became effective in January 2001. Its predominant objective is to regulate the production, export, cutting and marketing of diamonds. It emerged from the recognition that armed conflicts and human rights violations in diamond extraction impact on the diamond trade internationally and could cost the countries concerned a great deal of business. Over the last few years this has remained a matter of serious concern.
The Kimberly Process is open to all diamond-producing countries that show a willingness to implement its minimum standards. It currently has 49 members representing 75 countries. Participants of the scheme are allowed to trade only with other participants who have met the minimum requirements and a KP certificate, which guarantees that they are conflict free, must accompany the international shipment of rough diamonds.
However, even though KPCS has existed for a while, it is believed that it is still not as effective as it should be. It has failed to address issues of non-compliance, smuggling, money laundering and human rights violations connected to diamond production in some countries. However, there are some successful operations that it has been involved in, for instance in Sierra Leone in 2005 the scheme managed to increase the volume of exports as more entered the legal system than those being smuggled. Nevertheless, there were still reports that in the same year, between US$30 and US$170 million worth of diamonds were still smuggled out of the country.
It has been three years since diamonds were discovered in the remote district of Marange in Zimbabwe and the country was suspended from KPCS for a period of six months because of the government had been implicated in illegal smuggling of diamonds and the army's involvement in human rights violations. However, the KPCS's decision has drawn a lot of criticism from various organizations saying that suspending Zimbabwe from KPCS will not solve the problem but rather worsen diamond smuggling in that area.
One of the criticisms of the scheme is that even though Zimbabwe will not be allowed to trade in diamonds because they are not certified under KP they would still be able to enter the legal market. This perception emanates on allegations that syndicates operating in the district are not necessarily all Zimbabweans, meaning that diamonds mined and smuggled in that area can still be smuggled out of Zimbabwe and be certified in other states such as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, which are still participants of the scheme.
The immense involvement of the national army and Zimbabwe's government officials in the mining of diamonds in the Marange district, will somehow work against KPCS. Initially when government deployed soldiers in that area the aim was to stop illegal mining and regulate the productivity of the diamonds. From the beginning, there were allegations that the soldiers deployed there were abusing civilians and running syndicates involved in illegal smuggling of diamonds mined by the civilians.
A report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented allegations by miners who witnessed the army's brutality in that area. HRW called for the army to be removed from the region and Zimbabwe to be suspended until it meets the minimum requirements. The state denied the allegations, saying that the reason for deploying the army was to protect the area from illegal miners. The HRW report appears to have somehow forced KPCS to go and inspect the Marange district. Its findings led to Zimbabwe's suspension until the minimum standards of KPCS are attained, which include the immediate demilitarization of the Marange fields and investigation of the role of the army, police and other officials in abuses.
It seems that the pressure to stop illegal mining and the army's brutality and smuggling in that region should not only be directed to the scheme but also target Zimbabwe's neighbouring states. Its efficacy will depend on how willing they are to help to combat trading in Zimbabwe's conflict diamonds. One needs to also look at Zimbabwe's disposition in acknowledging the existence of a problem at Marange. Are the government officials and soldiers implicated in smuggling willing to let go of their source of income and stick to the regulations of the scheme?
One of the major issues that will help the scheme in combating human rights violations and diamond smuggling in that area is the political will from Zimbabwe and its neighbours. In the case of South Africa perhaps the Jacob Zuma administration will take a different approach to the quiet diplomacy used by the Thabo Mbeki government on Zimbabwe.
Written by: Asanda Conjwa, Intern: Organised Crime and Money Laundering Programme, ISS Cape Town