The 'Blood Diamond' Resurfaces [Angola]

Author: Michael Allen, Wall Street Journal [subscription required], Published on: 18 June 2010

International pressure helped end a vicious civil war [in Angola]…by strangling the ability of rebels to trade diamonds for weapons. Angola is now a leading member of the…Kimberley Process... But a visit to Angola's diamond heartland reveals that plenty of blood still spills over those precious stones…[A] violent economy prevails in which...peasant miners...and their families say they are routinely beaten and shaken down for bribes by soldiers and private security guards—and, in extreme cases, killed. This sort of violence...is threatening to tear the Kimberley Process apart. Diamond retailers can ill afford more bad publicity... But many…nations are wary about any effort to beef up the industry's policing... Linda Moisés da Rosa, 55 years old, denounced the killings of her two sons, both diamond miners. In September, she said, Angolan soldiers descended on a large mine near here to chase away diggers. When some refused to leave, she said, the soldiers caved in the mine, burying alive around 45 men, including her son... Military officials didn't respond to requests for comment. Angola's secretary of state for human rights, António Bento Bembe, blames his nation's long civil war... "I know lots of these cases happen, and I know of many other cases you haven't heard of yet," he said... "It is urgent to cultivate a culture of human rights."... [C]ritics say there's a big loophole in [the Kimberley Process's] definition [of conflict]: It doesn't take into account human-rights abuses in diamond territory controlled by governments themselves. "The Kimberley Process...gave legitimacy to corrupt governments that abuse their own people," says Rafael Marques, a human-rights activist...in...Angola... Matthew Runci, chief executive of Jewelers of America,…which represents jewelry chains from Tiffany & Co. to Zale Corp., says the Kimberley Process should either figure out a way to incorporate human-rights monitoring into its oversight…or invite an outside organization to do it... In Angola,...the Kimberley Process appears to have little appetite for human-rights issues. Last August, when a Kimberley Process peer-review team arrived..., Angolan forces were just mopping up a major operation to expel some 30,000 illegal Congolese miners... According to a U.S. State Department report..., military and police "arbitrarily beat and raped detainees" and forced them to march to the border without food or water. The government has denied committing abuses... [The] chairman of the Kimberley Process at the time, Namibian politician Bernhard Esau...brushed off questions... "The Kimberley Process is not a human-rights organization," he told reporters... Among the players [in Angolan diamonds] are Odebrecht SA of Brazil, ...Alrosa; and a company controlled by...Lev Leviev [Sodiama], all of which operate in joint ventures with the government diamond company Endiama... Lazare Kaplan International Inc. became a fixture in the area... Lazare Kaplan Chairman Maurice Tempelsman...says the company was trying to bring development to the area and help strengthen Angola's Kimberley Process controls. "I am strongly committed to the protection of human rights," Mr. Tempelsman says...

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Related companies: Alrosa (Almazy Rossii Sakha) Endiama (Empresa Nacional de Diamantes de Angola) Lazare Kaplan Lev Leviev Group Odebrecht Sodiama International (joint venture Lev Leviev & Endiama) Tiffany Zale (part of Signet)