Washington DC — A HIGH-POWERED Zimbabwean delegation led by Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu is here for the intersessional meeting of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme that starts today.
The United States has been ratcheting up pressure to redefine conflict gems - in a bid to tarnish Zimbabwean gems - amid stiff opposition from African producers.
Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, the first woman to chair the KPCS, has made it clear that the US government's priority at this meeting will be to convince the KPCS grouping to broaden the definition of "conflict diamonds".
However, Minister Mpofu, who arrived alongside Attorney-General Mr Johannes Tomana yesterday to join the rest of the team already here, said Zimbabwe was ready to defend itself if put on the agenda.
"The Zimbabwean delegation has arrived and we have a full complement of stakeholders. We are currently going through the programme and we have noticed that quite a number of issues are going to be addressed. However, this time around there doesn't seem to be any specific issues on Zimbabwe as such. But, all the same, we are confident that if any serious issues pertaining to Zimbabwe are raised, they are going to be tackled appropriately.
"If there is a surprise introduction of issues that may have an impact on Zimbabwe, we will deal with that appropriately," he said.
Dr Mpofu said Zimbabwe, for the first time in the history of its KPCS membership, had indicated willingness to be represented in all the grouping's standing committees.
"We want to fully participate in the working groups, to be a member of the working groups that are part of the KPCS administration.
"We would want to be part and parcel of those groups, like the Working Group on Monitoring, the Working Group on Statistics and other groups which we feel need our participation," he said.
The Minister said Zimbabwe would resist all efforts by some Western governments to politicise the KPCS.
"They want to bring, for instance, so-called human rights issues that are totally alien to the objectives of the KPCS. Those will be resisted."
He said all members of the KPCS were recently asked to complete a questionaire as to whether they approved plans by some countries to re-define conflict diamonds.
"The majority of the members who responded actually rejected the issues that were suggested in those questionairres," he said.
A fortnight ago, Ambassador Milovanovic told the World Diamond Council congress that the definition of conflict diamonds must be changed to encompass human rights violations by governments and not just rebel movements.
Currently, the KPCS charter defines conflict diamonds as "rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments."
Members of the African Diamond Producers Association are resisting the US manoeuvres, which they view as attempts to politicise the KPCS and lay the foundation for the victimisation of countries that have refused to be bullied.
They argue that the "human rights" discourse in Africa, Asia and Latin America is fraught with cheap politicking by Western-sponsored activists who see it as a convenient tool for regime-change campaigns.
Western-aligned NGOs such as Global Witness and Mr Farai Maguwu's Centre for Research and Development (CRD) allege that the Government of Zimbabwe is committing atrocious human rights violations through the army and the police in the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
They claim to have pictures showing that unarmed civilians have been viciously mauled by police dogs and even suffered gunshot wounds in the diamond fields this year.
The Ministry of Mines and Mining Development has strongly denied the allegations, accusing the NGOs of fighting a proxy war for Western powers, which have imposed unjust sanctions on Zimbabwe's diamond-producing companies.
In an exclusive interview on Capitol Hill yesterday, an African diplomat told The Herald that the stage was now set for "a bruising struggle between those countries in the West, which want to use the Kimberley Process as a political instrument and those nations that will fiercely resist these moves that are seen as both unfair and unnecessary by most diamond-producing countries."
According to a report compiled by KPCS monitor, Mr Marc van Bockstael, Zimbabwe has fully complied with KPCS minimum standards.
Mr Bockstael, who left Zimbabwe on May 26 after completing his monitoring tour, has submitted his report to the KPCS and the document is up for discussion during the intersessional meeting.
"The Working Group on Monitoring will discuss, among hundreds of other documents pertaining to other members of the KPCS, the report on Zimbabwe. It's just a formality, because once the monitor says a country has complied with the Kimberley Process minimum standards, the meeting must respect that," said an official from the US State Department who refused to be named.
However, the official said Zimbabwe would be asked by the KPCS to explain "discrepancies" in its official statistics on diamond production and exports.
"The Working Group on Statistics will be demanding answers, but Zimbabwe is not the only member of the KPCS that will be asked to regularise its statistics. There are 32 other member countries that will be asked to update and correct their official figures," said the US official.
As current chair, the US is hosting the annual Kimberley Process intersessional at the Department of State here.
The delegates will discuss a range of topics related to the mining and trading of conflict-free rough diamonds.
As the countdown to the high-stakes meeting entered the home stretch, the US government was accused of insincerity for making it impossible for some of Zimbabwe's indigenous NGOs to get visas.
Mr Tafadzwa Musarara, the chairman of Resources Exploitation Watch, told The herald in a telephone interview that the US Embassy in Harare had frustrated his hopes of attending the intersessional meeting.
"Can you imagine what the US Embassy is doing to us. They told us to come for visa interviews on Monday, June 4. That is unworkable, because the KP meeting in Washington DC starts on that same day. We feel the US government is abusing the privilege of chairing the KP this year. This is unprecedented in the history of the KP, an organisation that thrives on consensus. Civil society must be respected," said Mr Musarara.
Opening remarks will be delivered today by Ambassador Milovanovic, US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Mr Jose Fernandez, South Africa's Minister of Mineral Resources Ms Susan Shabangu, president of the World Diamond Council Mr Eli Izhakoff and a representative of the Civil Society Coalition.