Sunday, January 23, 2011

Zimbabwe to Continue Trading Its Vast Diamond Resources on the World Market

Zimbabwe: Kimberley Process Under Scrutiny Over Diamond Deal

Alex Bell
20 January 2011

The diamond trade watchdog, the Kimberley Process (KP) is facing scrutiny over a newly amended deal, which will allow exports from Zimbabwe's controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields.

KP members this week voted in favour of an amendment to an agreement that was proposed last November in Jerusalem, an agreement that was turned down by the Zimbabwean authorities. Zimbabwe was suspended from exporting its diamonds in 2009 because of rights abuses at the Chiadzwa diamond fields, including violence and smuggling. The country's Mines Ministry insists that such abuses have stopped, and have threatened to sell the diamonds without KP approval.

This amended agreement is already being critically viewed as a last ditch attempt by outgoing KP chairman Boaz Hirsch to reach a consensus on certifying Chiadzwa stones. Chairmanship of the KP now hands over to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a known ally of the Robert Mugabe regime. Critics are concerned that this new agreement, to be enforced in the future by the DRC, doesn't make the issue of human rights a priority.

Of particular concern is the amendment to a 'violence clause' that will make it harder for those who allege human rights abuses at Chiadzwa to seek a formal investigation by the KP. Under the amendment, it will now take three, rather than two member countries to endorse a call for monitoring by the KP.

At the same time, business critics say that this 'loosening' of the agreement might be prompted by the declining health of the global diamond industry, which has reportedly suffered a blow by the ban on Chiadzwa diamonds. A large percentage of the world's rough diamonds are mined in the alluvial field and its understood that their absence in the market has had a significant effect on business.

The KP is now waiting on Zimbabwe to approve this deal, which is likely as the Mines Ministry has indicated that it is already in the process of organising fresh diamond auctions.

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