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23rd Jan 2020

EU calls for reforms in Zimbabwe amid diamond tensions

  • A diamond on display in Antwerp's certification office (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU and international partners have called on officials in Zimbabwe to speed up the implementation of a power-sharing agreement, also underlining their concerns following last week's bust-up in a Kimberley Process meeting on diamonds.

Members of the Friends of Zimbabwe Group met in Brussels on Tuesday (29 June), releasing a statement a day later in which they welcomed some progress towards a new constitution, democratic reforms and credible elections.

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"However, serious concerns remain. Continued violence, intimidation, and ongoing arrests demonstrate disregard for human rights," the group said in a final communique.

Last month, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai predicted elections would take place in 2012, while President Robert Mugabe has been pushing for an earlier vote amid reports of increased political harassment of his opponents. The two men have been bound in an awkward power-sharing agreement following disputed elections in 2008.

Updated in February, EU sanctions against Zimbabwe target 200 people and 40 firms linked to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, accused of committing rights abuses.

Tensions over Zimbabwe's Marange diamond mine erupted last week following a meeting between stakeholders in the Kimberley Process (KP), a joint initiative between governments, industry and civil society groups to stem the flow of conflict diamonds.

Despite civil society groups rejecting a text enabling international sales of diamonds from the controversial mine, KP group chairman Mathieu Yamba later said a consensus had been reached, provoking uncertainty in the industry and criticism from the EU and US.

"The EU recalls that trade in Marange diamonds requires a consensual solution respecting KP decision-making rules," a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

Watchdog group Human Rights Watch says Zimbabwean armed forces are engaging in the forced labour of children and adults at the mine, as well as beatings and killings.

But born of conflicts in countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone, the Kimberley Process is designed to tackle the illicit activities of rebel groups, rather than government activities.

"The Kimberly process was created for a specific purpose ... it's a bit futile to make it do something that it wasn't originally created to do," US ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray told EUobserver on Wednesday.

"If we miscalculate and Zimbabwe is knocked out of the Kimberley Process, that does not help solve the human rights problems. In fact, that exacerbates them."

MEPs who want the EU to push ahead with US-style rules on conflict minerals such as gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum are keenly aware of the limitations of the current agreement covering international diamond sales.

Following the signing of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, the US securities and exchange commission (SEC) is expected to come forward with rules later this year that will require US-listed companies to check whether raw materials used in their products are coming from militarised mines in eastern DRC and the surrounding area.

The European Commission is currently considering the merits of similar legislation, with euro-deputies who support such a scheme keen for it to cover government as well as rebel group abuses.

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