August 15, 2022

Zimbabwe Diamond Exports Approved Over Objections

Decisions of the body known as the Kimberley Process are supposed to be made by consensus, according to its “core document” — a standard that has been interpreted to require unanimity among participating countries.

But in Zimbabwe’s case, the chairman of the Kimberley Process, Mathieu Yamba Lapfa Lambang of Congo, issued a brief notice Thursday night saying that the body had endorsed exports by two principal companies operating in Zimbabwe’s Marange fields, despite open opposition from some member nations. His notice said that monitors would have access to data about exports after they were shipped, but provided for no monitoring before the stones were exported.

“We have made a breakthrough,” Zimbabwe’s mining minister, Obert Mpofu, was quoted as saying in the state-controlled Herald newspaper on Friday. Mr. Mpofu, a vociferous supporter of Zimbabwe’s 87-year-old strongman, President Robert Mugabe, has long depicted efforts to impose tough monitoring requirements on Zimbabwe’s diamond exports as part of a Western ploy to enact “illegal regime change” in the country.

Zimbabwe has gotten strong support from other African countries for its drive to export Marange diamonds, but in the final meeting of the Kimberley Process on Thursday in Kinshasa, Congo, representatives of Canada and the European Union objected to the position the chairman advocated. An official from the United States raised a placard to speak but was not called on, according to a person close to the process who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the body’s confidential deliberations.

The State Department on Friday issued a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision on Zimbabwe and noted that there had been no consensus among the participants.

Zimbabwe’s own finance minister, Tendai Biti, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, which is in a troubled power-sharing government with Mr. Mugabe’s party, questioned whether the decision to give Zimbabwe permission to export diamonds was valid.

“There was no unanimity,” Mr. Biti said in an interview Friday. “The question is: Is the decision valid? It’s supposed to be by consensus, not by majority.”

Mr. Biti — under pressure to come up with more revenue to increase the paltry salaries of civil servants — stopped short of saying that he, too, opposed the Kimberley Process’s decision.

But civic groups and leaders in Mr. Biti’s party are deeply concerned that the military, still entrenched in the Marange diamond fields and loyal to Mr. Mugabe, will use diamond profits to finance a campaign of violence against the Movement for Democratic Change in elections that seem likely to be held next year.

Whatever danger Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth might pose to its democracy is not clearly covered by the Kimberley Process mission statement. It was set up to stop the illicit trade in diamonds that finances rebel groups, but did not contemplate sales that finance an army or a government that attacks its own people.

Advocacy groups that have sought to make the process relevant in cases like Zimbabwe walked out of the meeting in Kinshasa on Thursday, to protest what they called “its failure to address human rights abuses associated with the diamond trade.”

“The crisis around the Zimbabwe issue has highlighted the systemic failures of the Kimberley Process,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness. “There’s not enough political will to hold countries to account.”

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