Comment: The tricks Mugabe uses to make money from diamonds

By Peter Hain

In December 2000 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. This led to the 'Kimberley Process', a mechanism for negotiations, and then the international treaty banning 'blood diamonds' established under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1459, in January 2003.

Now we are seeing a different kind of 'blood diamond', from Marange in Zimbabwe, and it is high time that the Kimberley Process and the World Diamond Council stopped turning a blind eye to serious abuse with an anti-democratic, violent purpose.

Robert Mugabe's Zanu, first elected in a landslide victory in 1980, betrayed the freedom struggle they once led by systematically using violence as a political strategy to maintain both power and the privileges of an increasingly corrupt mafia surrounding him.

The elections of 2000, 2002 and 2008, saw killings, torture and beatings of Zanu-PF opponents, with massive human rights abuses. Mugabe's regime specialised in stealing these elections by violence. My fear is that Zimbabwe's forthcoming election, due by June next year, may be no different.

In that government the movement for democratic change has been given the ministries of finance, education, and health among others. Zanu-PF retained the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Mines, and the Office of the President, home of Zimbabwe's feared secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation (or CIO).

Since the MDC took control of the Ministry of Finance and clipped the wings of the Reserve Bank, the security mafia loyal to president Mugabe has been on a hunt for sources of off-budget finance.

They have now found these sources, thanks to an accident of geology and the failures of the international community. In 2006 diamonds were found in the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe. The area holds one of the world's richest deposits of alluvial diamonds. The gems lie close to the surface of the ground, making them easy to collect by hand.

In 2008 the military deployed soldiers and helicopter gunships during the clearance of thousands of small scale miners from these Marange diamond fields, killing and wounding many in the process.

Nearly every soldier in Marange is involved in one way or the other in illegal mining forming syndicates of diamond panners whom they then protect and escort.
Global Witness deserves our thanks for its impressive report, Financing a Parallel Government?, which has unearthed devastating evidence on Zimbabwe's blood diamond trade. In Zimbabwe, mineral rights are vested, not in the state, but with the president. So Robert Mugabe then granted a series of mining concessions.

A web connects these companies to Mugabe cronies, overseas businessmen, shell firms overseas and tax havens.

Instead of suspending sanctions at the behest of Zanu-PF, Monday's EU foreign ministers meeting and the British government should bolster the EU's targeted sanctions list.  This should remain the case at least until the election – probably less than twelve months away – has passed off peacefully.

By all means, if the intention is to wave a carrot and not just a stick, then suspend sanctions against some lower down the Zanu-PF command list – or examine the more calibrated strategy recommended by the International Crisis Group and being considered by southern African countries.  But we need to prevent security forces building a war chest before the election.

More than enough damage has been done already to the wonderful people of Zimbabwe, as a once-prosperous country has been reduced to penury.  Let us ensure we do not perpetuate that terrible damage by premature suspensions of these highly targeted sanctions, especially on those responsible for the Marange blood diamonds, when the imperative is to impose more not less.

The World Diamond Council and governments with a substantial diamond trade must also act to block blood diamonds from Marange or the whole diamond trade could well find itself tarnished and targeted by boycotts and protesters just as was threatened until it acted in 2000.

Read Peter Hain's speech to parliament on blood diamonds in full.

Read the Global Witness report Financing a Parallel Government? in full.

Peter Hain is a former Labour cabinet minister and a current MP for Neath.

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