The international diamond trade watchdog, the Kimberley Process (KP), is facing criticism for endorsing Zimbabwe's diamond trade and lifting the monitoring mechanisms previously in place to oversee the local industry.
The KP made this decision at the end of its annual plenary session last week, which saw a number of civil society and human rights groups raise concern about the Zim diamond trade. Chief among these concerns are claims that diamond profits are funding a 'parallel' government in Zimbabwe, whose main aim is to keep the ZANU PF regime in power.
But the KP has now officially endorsed the Zim trade, saying the country is fully 'compliant', despite the concerns raised by civic groups. The KP said, as a result, it would withdraw its monitoring team because Zimbabwe fulfilled all the requirements to certify its own diamond exports.
Zimbabwe's diamond trade has been in the media spotlight since 2008 when hundreds of diamond panners were allegedly murdered by the military at the Chiadzwa diamond fields. The country was later suspended from international trade over concerns of human rights abuses. But the KP never took decisive punitive action against the then ZANU PF government, and has continued its lenient treatment of the subsequent ZANU PF run Mines Ministry.
Zimbabwe was granted time to improve the situation at the Chiadzwa fields, where ZANU PF top dogs are said to be the leading beneficiaries of illicit sales. Such sales continued, despite Zimbabwe's suspension from trade, and millions of dollars are said to have been pocketed.
A recent report has indicated that about US$2 billion worth of diamonds have been siphoned out of Zimbabwe in the past four years by a network of ZANU PF ministers and military officials.
"Conservative estimates place the theft of Marange goods at almost $2 billion since 2008," Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) said in a report last month.
PAC campaigner Alan Martin told SW Radio Africa that the KP's decision to endorse Zimbabwe's diamond trade is a reflection of the fact that the monitoring body "lost political will to do anything on Zimbabwe years ago." He said the KP decision has been cemented in technical facts "without looking at larger, more important issues."
"We remain concerned about the operations of the diamond companies in Chiadzwa, and unanswered questions like the sale of diamonds under embargo and other issues," Martin said.
Similar concerns have been raised by the pressure group Global Witness, which withdrew from the KP civil society wing in 2011 because of the lack of action on Zimbabwe. Annie Dunnebacke from Global Witness told SW Radio Africa that the KP's decision to endorse Zimbabwe "is a final signal for us that the KP is not the place to go to clean up the diamond trade."
"Their premise for lifting the monitoring arrangement is based entirely on the wrong thing. They are focused on the technical advancements being made while turning a blind eye to the more grievous issues at play," Dunnebacke said.
She added that the onus is now on the diamond industry to adopt "due diligence" practices to ensure that the diamonds they source do not fund repression or election violence.