Zimbabwe’s diamond fields enrich ruling party, report says
JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s military, controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s political party, violently took over diamond fields in Zimbabwe last year and has used the illicit revenues to buy the loyalty of restive soldiers and enrich party leaders, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Friday.
The party, ZANU-PF, has used the money from diamonds — smuggled out of the country or illegally sold through the Reserve Bank — to reinforce its hold over the security forces, which seemed to be slipping last year as the value of soldiers’ pay collapsed with soaring inflation, Human Rights Watch researchers said.
On Friday, Zimbabwe’s government roundly denied the charges in the report, which cited visits by its researcher to the diamond fields in February and interviews with soldiers, miners and other witnesses.
The information minister, Webster Shamu, of ZANU-PF, said in a telephone interview that the report’s aim was to tarnish the country’s image, block the sale of its diamonds internationally and, “in so doing, deny Zimbabwe much needed foreign currency.”
“The whole report is just not true,” he said.
Last year Zimbabwe’s state media depicted the military blitz, code-named Operation No Return, in the Marange district as a push to restore order in the midst of a lawless diamond rush in the area.
But the Human Rights Watch report charged that the military killed more than 200 miners and used the push to seize the Marange fields.
Some miners died when soldiers opened fire from helicopters with automatic rifles mounted on them, the group said. Many of the dead were taken to the morgue at Mutare General Hospital, or buried in mass graves, the report says.
Army brigades are being rotated into the diamond fields, discovered in 2006, so more soldiers can profit from the illegal trade, the report says.
Villagers from the area, some of them children, are being forced to work in mines controlled by military syndicates and have complained of being harassed, beaten and arrested, the report says.
“It’s a big cash cow for the military and the police, especially since Zimbabwe is virtually bankrupt,” Dewa Mavhinga, the Zimbabwean lawyer who was the main researcher for the report, said in an interview.
Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled for 29 years, is now governing with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who spent the past three weeks in Western capitals seeking assistance for Zimbabwe’s devastated economy.
President Obama and European heads of state have generally declined to aid Zimbabwe’s government directly, in part because of concerns that it continues to flout the rule of law.
The Human Rights Watch report is the latest sign of growing international concern about charges of killings and human rights abuses in the diamond fields southwest of the city of Mutare.
“While Zimbabwe’s new power-sharing government, formed in February 2009, now lobbies the world for development aid, millions of dollars in potential government revenue are being siphoned off,” the report said.
The World Federation of Diamond Bourses, an umbrella group of 28 bourses in 20 countries, called on its members in April not to trade diamonds that originate in the Marange deposits in Zimbabwe.
“Somewhere along the line, we have to stand up and be counted,” Michael H. Vaughan, the federation’s executive director, said in an interview on Friday.
On Sunday, representatives of the Kimberley Process, an alliance of industry, civic and government officials set up to stop the flow of so-called blood diamonds, will be traveling to Zimbabwe to explore whether the country is complying with the alliance’s standards.
A coalition of nonprofit groups is lobbying to have Zimbabwe suspended from membership in the Kimberley Process. “There’s rampant smuggling out of the country,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness, one of the nonprofit groups. “The military is profiting from the trade and is directly involved in the sale of the diamonds.”
At a time when Zimbabwe is struggling to pay civil servants and soldiers a stipend of $100 a month, the extra income from diamond mining for soldiers is serving “to mollify a constituency whose loyalty to ZANU-PF, in the context of ongoing political strife, is essential,” the Human Rights Watch report said.
In December, soldiers rioted in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to protest pay that had become virtually worthless as inflation increased to astronomical levels. Analysts and Western diplomats said at the time that Mr. Mugabe might lose his grip on power if he were unable to sustain the patronage he had deployed for decades.
Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/world/africa/27zimbabwe.html