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Zimbabwe sells controversial diamonds

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Aug 11, 2010

Zimbabwe sells controversial diamonds

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Aug 11, 2010


Kai Ryssdal:Millions of dollars worth of diamonds went on sale in Zimbabwe today. A group set up to prevent the trafficking of what are called “conflict diamonds” said the gemstones sold today met their standards. But human rights groups say that, in fact, they were mined in an area where government soldiers killed hundreds of people and forced children into hard labor.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports now a story that does have some graphic details.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The diamonds sold today come from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. Civilians started mining them in 2008. The government sent the army in to stop them.

Government officials deny any abuses, but human rights activists like Jon Elliott of Human Rights Watch say the soldiers were brutal.

Jon Elliot: We’ve had stories of women being raped or sexually abused, or in some cases, having parts of their bodies cut open when it’s been suspected they’ve swallowed a diamond in a pouch.

The organization that certified Zimbabwe’s diamonds as “conflict free” is called the Kimberley Process. It’s a group of mining industry representatives, human rights groups and countries involved in the diamond business. It was formed in 2003 to stop Africa’s diamond wars. But the Kimberley Process says nothing about blood diamonds — where there’s bloodshed without war, like in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe squeaked through this loophole.

Nadim Kara is with the human rights group Partnership Africa Canada. He’s going to try to close the loophole.

Nadim Kara: So, wish us luck.

He’ll need all the luck he can get. Every country involved in the Kimberley Process will have to agree to close the loophole. But diamond exporters do want the Kimberley Process certification, because diamonds without it are worth less.

Kara: So a diamond worth $10,000 is all of a sudden being… You’re getting $7,000 or $5,000.

Ian Smillie used to work for Partnership Africa Canada. He helped set up the Kimberley Process, but he quit in disgust, when he realized it didn’t prevent producers from selling blood diamonds.

Ian Smillie: The only thing that will help some of them to wake up is if consumers start to tell retailers that they don’t want diamonds unless they know for sure that they’re clean.

After all, Smillie says, diamonds are supposed to represent love.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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