Zim Gem Exports Continue Amid Objections

Kimberley Process Chairman Mathieu Yamba said on March 19 the southern African nation could begin shipping gems from Marange “with immediate effect.” His decision was questioned by Kimberley Process members including Canada and the U.S., who called for a consensus agreement before shipments resumed.
The organization won’t reverse its decision because of the objections of some member countries, Yamba said in a March 30 phone interview. A review will be conducted at future meetings of the group, he said.

The Kimberley Process was started in 2003 to stem the trade in so-called “blood diamonds” that fund conflict. Restrictions were placed on the export of Marange gems in 2009 after a Kimberley Process review mission found human-rights violations and smuggling at the site. In 2008, more than 200 people were killed when Zimbabwean security forces took over the concessions, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Yamba’s decision proves Zimbabwe is adhering to the rules, Zimbabwean Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said yesterday.

“We are going ahead because we are compliant,” Mpofu said by phone from Harare. Complaints by countries like Canada, the U.S. and Australia are “political games,” he said. “They are bent on frustrating our economic development. Zimbabwe has acted responsibly and will continue to act responsibly.”

Production from the Marange diamond fields is about 1 million carats a month, Chaim Evan-Zohar, president of industry consultant Tacy Ltd., said in February, citing government information. The country earned at least $174 million from sales of the gems so far this year, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported in February. Yamba is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which holds the revolving chairmanship of the Kimberley Process this year. “Congo and Zimbabwe have a good relationship,” Yamba said.

“The unilateral decision by Yamba is very dangerous to the future of the KP,” Elly Harrowell of U.K.-based advocacy group Global Witness said by phone from London. “The Process is entirely governed by consensus. Those are the rules and everyone, most especially the chair, has to comply with those rules,” she said. Global Witness is one of the civil society observers of the Kimberley Process.

The New York-based World Diamond Council has advised members of the international diamond industry to refrain from trading in diamonds from Marange “until the situation becomes clearer,” according to a statement on the group’s website.
Mpofu said he wasn’t surprised by the council’s decision, calling it “an extension of the U.S. government.”