The flawed diamond sale: Sanctions lifted on gemstones from Zimbabwe

Belgium has successfully lobbied for sanctions to be lifted on gemstones mined in Zimbabwe, promising a windfall for the ailing nation. But critics say the ethics of the move are questionable

When 300,000 carats of rough diamonds went on sale in Belgium this month, they were remarkable not only for their wealth and sparkle. The auction marked the European debut of gemstones from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds fields, which once promised great riches for the nation but have instead been tainted by international sanctions and allegations of human rights abuses.

For the Belgian government and diamond industry officials who successfully lobbied the European Union to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe’s state-owned mining company this year, the sale marked the first step towards generating billions of dollars in revenue for Zimbabwe’s government, which they say will help lift its people out of poverty and encourage transparency. But critics argue that the sale of stones mined in one of the world’s most corrupt countries, which has a dismal human rights record, is another example of how the Kimberley Process – launched a decade ago to keep unethical diamonds from the market – is hobbled by its  narrow remit.

“The violence in the diamond sector has changed since the creation of the Kimberley Process,” says Alan Martin, research director at the resources watchdog, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC). Today, he says, it is not only the rebel groups sanctioned by the Kimberley Process that stand accused of abuses, but state bodies and private security firms. There is also growing concern that diamond revenue is not ending up in the pockets of the people who need it most. “In the same way that the definition of violence and conflict diamonds has changed, the entire corporate social responsibility landscape has changed,” Mr Martin adds.

The Kimberley Process came into effect in 2003 after groups such as PAC and UK-based Global Witness highlighted atrocities as rebel groups plundered African diamond mines to fund civil wars. The process in which diamond-producing nations are now monitored and certified has largely stemmed the involvement of rebel groups, with what are traditionally termed “blood diamonds” making up only about 1 per cent of all stones currently on the market. Rights groups and some governments are now lobbying for the narrow definition of conflict diamonds to be expanded, while groups such as PAC argue that transparency and accountability should also be more closely monitored.

Kimberley Process officials did stretch their original definition in 2009 when they placed an embargo on Zimbabwean stones, citing military involvement in the Marange fields. The ban came after human rights groups accused the government of killing up to 200 people in an operation to remove thousands of small-scale miners from Marange, which in 2006 was found to hold some of Africa’s largest diamond deposits. The government in Harare denied the accusations and, after noting improvement in the mines, Kimberley Process officials lifted the ban in 2011. But the US and EU maintained economic sanctions which had been in place since the early 2000s to encourage democratic reform, meaning the diamonds had to be sold in Dubai.

Then in September this year – following elections won by President Robert Mugabe – the EU lifted all of its sanctions, including those on the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC). The US State Department, however, retained its sanctions on the grounds that the polls were “deeply flawed”.

Emily Armistead, a campaigner for Global Witness, thinks the EU was premature in lifting the sanctions. The fields are run by joint ventures between private firms and the state-owned ZMDC, and opaque management structures have led to concerns that military and government-linked figures are still profiting from the gems. “We continue to be anxious that the military and other parts of the regime are bolstering their power through diamond revenues and potentially undermining democracy,” she said.

The week-long sale of Zimbabwean diamonds in Antwerp, which ends tomorrow, is the first of many and is expected to raise between $7.5m (£4.6m) and $15m. Belgian officials estimate that the lifting of sanctions could mean an extra $400m a year in revenue for Zimbabwe.

Mr Martin is not convinced the wealth will trickle down in a country ranked 157th of the 177 nations surveyed by the anti-corruption body Transparency International.

Zimbabwe has had a small-scale diamond industry since the 1980s but it was the discovery of the eastern Marange fields seven years ago which led to hopes that the gem industry could help to turn around an economy battered by years of mismanagement and instability.

Those promises of wealth have been slow to materialise. A PAC report last year alleged that up to $2bn in diamond revenue had gone missing in four years, the result of smuggling, undervaluation of stones leaving the country and a “high level of collusion” by government officials.

Zimbabwean mining executives denied the claims but complaints have also come from within the government. The former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, of the opposition MDC party, complained that the promised $600m from diamond sales earmarked for development projects had not materialised, with only $41m making its way into government hands last year.

Cecilia Gardner, the general counsel of the World Diamond Council, says the Kimberley Process does require all member countries to report detailed statistics on the quantity, weight and value of all diamonds mined and exported, with regular reviewing and monitoring.

The recent ban on diamonds from the Central African Republic shows the Kimberley Process remains a much-needed tool for both holding regimes to account and keeping the consumer informed. “No system is perfect, but it has done a great job of enhancing awareness of conflict diamonds,” says Anish Aggarwal, of the Gemdax consultancy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition