Miners take a break at the Marange field in eastern Zimbabwe in 2006. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi /…)
Reporting from Washington — The international organization that monitors conflict diamonds has agreed to allow Zimbabwe to export diamonds from its vast Marange mining fields despite rampant human rights abuses in the area.
The decision by the Kimberley Process — as the regulatory group governed by diamond-trading nations is known — threatens an end to world consensus over blocking so-called blood diamonds from the market and makes it impossible for consumers to have confidence that the diamonds they buy did not contribute to violence, said some participants in the group's meeting this week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Thursday, Kimberley Process Chairman Mathieu Yamba said Zimbabwe would be allowed to export rough diamonds from Marange under a system of minimal human rights oversight, participants said. The regulatory group's decisions are supposed to be made by consensus, but the United States, Canada and the European Union swiftly protested.
"Until consensus is reached, exports from Marange should not proceed," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The ruling party in Zimbabwe seized Marange in 2009 allegedly by killing hundreds of prospectors. President Robert Mugabe's party continues to control the area with violence and forced labor, rights groups say.
The BBC reported that Zimbabwe Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told his country's state-run Herald that the Kimberley Process decision was "a breakthrough."
"We want to be treated like any other country. I'm going to sell our diamonds now," Mpofu told the Reuters news agency.
The Kimberley Process was created by the United Nations in 2003 to ensure that the trade in diamonds did not contribute to human rights abuses. But Thursday's decision calls into question its effectiveness.
The Process grew out of the trade in blood diamonds that financed brutal rebel groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Many member countries and diamond-industry representatives argue that the Process was not meant to address state-sponsored violence, like that in Zimbabwe.
Civil society groups and Western states disagree, insisting that the Process' charter covers all human rights abuses.
"We represent communities that have suffered from diamond-fueled violence and communities that hope to benefit from diamond wealth," said Aminata Kelly-Lamin from Sierra Leone's Network Movement for Justice and Development. "We can no longer go back to these people, look them in the eye and tell them that the scheme is working to protect their interests, when it is not."