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Diamonds: Still Bloody

[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]

Isn't it nice that diamonds are not being used to fund horrific civil wars in Africa anymore? Isn't it nice that so-called "conflict diamonds" are not flooding the world market? Now, instead of fueling conflicts, diamonds are being used to prop up gross human rights violators like Zimbabwe.

The roots of the current problem have been clear for some time. After a decade of bloodshed and atrocity, the diamond industry was finally shamed into agreeing to a process whereby diamonds would be deemed "conflict-free" before being sold on the world market. The so-called Kimberley Process, established in 2003, had one glaring weakness, however: it was an industry-run effort with almost no verification mechanisms. So, naturally, last year, amid controversy over whether diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields would be allowed verification and export, the Kimberley Process granted Robert Mugabe's government its approval. That was in June. And now, here is a BBC report from Zimbabwe:

A torture camp run by Zimbabwe's security forces is operating in the country's rich Marange diamond fields, BBC Panorama has found. The programme heard from recent victims who told of severe beatings and sexual assault...The main torture camp uncovered by the programme is known locally as "Diamond Base". Witnesses said it is a remote collection of military tents, with an outdoor razor wire enclosure where the prisoners are kept.It is near an area known as Zengeni in Marange, said to be one of the world's most significant diamond fields. The camp is about one mile from the main Mbada mine that the EU wants to approve exports from. The company that runs the mine is headed by a personal friend of President Mugabe. A second camp is located in nearby Muchena. "It is the place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings," a victim who was released from the main camp in February told the BBC. All the released prisoners the BBC spoke to requested anonymity. "They beat us 40 whips in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 in the evening," said the man, who still could not use one of his arms after the beatings and could barely walk. "They used logs to beat me here, under my feet, as I lay on the ground. They also used stones to beat my ankles."

The New York Times has more here. Every time I write a post about diamonds, I am asked whether I think people should buy them, provided they (the diamonds) are deemed conflict-free. Putting aside this story, and others like them, there is no doubt that most diamonds sold today are not being used to support human rights violations or war crimes. But, as this example shows, the international diamond industry's major sellers are intimately involved in a shameful process whereby situations like the one reported here are allowed to occur. As long as the industry refuses impartial international verification and monitoring, the problem will continue. If you do buy a diamond from a large international seller, it is worth keeping this in mind.