Diamonds are not all girls' best friends

Human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Zimbabwe could easily be avoided.

Diamond operation at Marange, Zimbabwe.

Diamond operation at Marange, Zimbabwe.

Diamond production and trade have for decades attracted the attention of consumers and civil society globally due to the testimonies of those affected by mining of the gem. As a result of repeated human rights scandals, abuses and humanitarian law violations involving the diamond industry, the multi-stakeholder Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was created to certify diamonds that are free of links to conflict and gross human rights violations. Diamonds from Zimbabwe, including from the Marange region, are certified by this initiative as conflict-free diamonds. Nevertheless, human rights abuses and loss of livelihoods continue to take place in the region every day.

Since the discovery of diamonds in Marange around 2006, reports by non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Global Witness have exposed rights abuses and violations by both private security companies hired by mining companies in Marange as well as Zimbabwean army, police and Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) operatives.

During a workshop held end of 2016 in Mutare, the capital city of Manicaland, more than 40 participants, men and women, shared touching experiences of how they have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the diamond mining companies that mined in Marange before the government took over the fields early 2016. The Zimbabwe government forcibly merged all diamond operations in Marange to form the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC). From testimonies given, it is clear that the situation has not improved, but worsening instead, since ZCDC took over the diamond mining fields.

In Arda Transau, where most families have been relocated, parliamentarians from the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy, and representatives from Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association came face to face with the sad story of poverty and deprivation during a fact-finding tour in January 2017.

Two days after our workshop in December and on the ground interactions with affected community members, 26 families were going to be relocated outside of the mining area. According to an elderly woman we spoke to from Chiadzwa, “these people do not even know where they are going to go; they simply were ordered to pack their belongings and their livestock and to be ready for the day” when they were to be moved.

International standards regarding displacement are clear on how relocation should take place: communities should be consulted and have access to information when displacement is unavoidable. Likewise, according to Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela), section 74 of the Zimbabwean Constitution prevents evictions from homes without a court order. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly establish the responsibility of companies, particularly state-owned companies, to carry out due diligence to respect human rights.

  From the villagers’ testimonies, none of these criteria has been respected in the current process. Most of the communities are clueless about the fact that they might have to leave a rural setting to establish themselves in an urban location, where they will not be provided with any land nor title deeds for the houses they will occupy. The communities are to receive a nominal disturbance relocation allowance of $1 000. Given the poverty of the villagers and that they are presented no other option, most accept the payment.

Additional compensation has in most instances been verbally guaranteed only when and if ZCDC becomes profitable – but even beyond the lack of transparency of ZCDC’s finances, observers question whether this compensation will ever occur since no property valuation has been carried out prior to relocation.

Civil society groups acted swiftly in response to threatened evictions, condemning the actions of the government and the diamond company. Locals represented by Zela filed a legal complaint requesting the relocation to be suspended until the relocation process is clarified and adequate compensation was guaranteed. Hopefully, these actions will result in better outcomes for the families who for years have suffered the negative consequences of diamond extraction.

The communities we met with also shared their experiences of how through monitoring and documentation of rights abuses within the mining fields, they push for “responsible mining” within the Marange diamond fields. When specifically asked about the differentiated effects for men and for women, water was the main issue mentioned. Diamond mining has polluted water sources and deviated rivers where normally women would fetch water. “Now they have to walk longer distances to a borehole using more of their time and energy; time they could allocate to other activities, such as crop cultivation,” says one activist. Something similar has happened with collection of firewood, as the forest areas previously surrounding their homes, have been replaced by humongous holes in the ground where diamonds are now, or used to be, extracted.

During our visit with members of one community in Marange at a service centre, the previously raised concerns start to take a vivid dimension. The team did not enter the Marange area, which is under tight security control; as locals described, only authorised vehicles and people are allowed through the checkpoints into the Marange area. The enclosures intend to keep locals from “illegal diamond mining”, but they are also a barrier for advocates and citizens who want to know what is happening inside, creating an environment for human rights abuses to go unreported or undocumented, unless communities do it themselves.

Three women walking with five children shared their experience of mining literally taking place in their backyard. One of them raised issues regarding health. “We suffer because of the dust and the noise. Mining operations are just where our crop garden used to be”, she complains. Undernourished children looked on as their mothers continued to share their stories on how diamonds, which were found nearby by accident in 2006, have worsened their lives and resulted in the loss of family land.

One could easily imagine that after all the negative consequences they have suffered, by now communities in the region would be strongly opposed to any mining activity, but they are not. They understand that mining is key for their country’s economic development. What they request is for mining companies to behave responsibly. Their petitions are more than reasonable: fences to protect children and livestock from falling into the open pits, environmental damage mitigation, access to safe water, livelihood alternatives as they are losing their fields to the mining companies, fair relocation practices, and rehabilitation of old mining sites.

  These are actions companies should in fact undertake to follow the UN guiding principles and sectoral standards. Actions the government should require to protect human rights. If ZCDC is to follow their motto “Diamonds transforming Zimbabwe” they might as well start by improving the livelihoods of the villagers hosting their extractive activities.

Joy Mabenge and Karen Hudlet work for Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Nyaradzo Mutonhori and Tafadzwa Dhlakama work for Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela)

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