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ANGOLA: New report alleges blood still stains diamonds

luanda, 10 March 2005 (IRIN) - Angola's diamond industry is beset by murders, beatings, arbitrary detentions and other human rights violations, alleges a new report, and the international community should boycott these gems.

'Angola's Deadly Diamonds', produced by human rights activists who recorded the abuses in the diamond-rich provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul throughout 2004, said such violations against both Angolans and foreigners had become the norm.

Since the Angolan government launched its crackdown against diamond smugglers in the area known as the Lundas, there have been reports of unrest and violence at the hands of both the national police and diamond company security firms.

The report's authors - journalist and civil rights campaigner Rafael Marques, and lawyer Rui Falcao de Campos - said in a statement that they "link the violence to lawlessness and corruption that ensure only a privileged few benefit from the region's diamond wealth".

Government and police representatives were not immediately available for comment on the report, which called on the international community to reconsider the objectives of the Kimberley Process, and include stones from areas where diamond mining "is based on the systematic violation of human rights" in the category of 'conflict diamonds'.

The Kimberley Process seeks to end the trade in illegal 'blood' diamonds through an international certification system.

Arguing that Angola's diamonds were still tainted, despite the end of the 27-year civil conflict in 2002, the document urged foreign countries to impose sanctions against trading in Angolan gems until such time as "the Angolan state guarantees labour and social standards compatible with the human rights values of the UN [United Nations] system."

The head of the UN human rights agency (UNHCHR) in Angola, Wegard Bye, said the UN could not corroborate the "extremely serious" allegations contained in the report but, following media reports of alleged abuses, the Resident Coordinator of the UN system in Angola had already expressed his concern and offered the organisation's support to any parliamentary enquiry into the matter.

COSTLY SMUGGLING

Angolan officials believed the state was losing as much as $375 million in revenue every year because of diamond smuggling. In December 2003 the government launched "Operation Brilliant", a plan to arrest and expel those found illegally mining the gems - so far more than 250,000 miners and smugglers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and West African countries, have been deported.

Local media had also reported cases of deaths and injuries in the Lundas, although concrete evidence was difficult to come by, given the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region.

In Muxinda, in Lunda Norte, 12 people accused of smuggling reportedly died after being imprisoned in an unventilated cell.

"The failure of the police to produce case records both demonstrated the arbitrary nature of the detentions, and meant that the police themselves had no accurate account of either the numbers or the names of the dead," the report alleged. "Many of those who died were Congolese migrants who worked as informal diamond diggers in Angola."

In Cafunfo, also in Lunda Norte, 11 people are reported to have died and another 18 wounded as a result of police attempts to quell a riot, allegedly sparked when diamond company security guards attempted to remove generators supplying electricity to the town.

"The report reveals that some of the detentions occurred before the riot started, and that several of the dead were bystanders unconnected with the protest action," Marques and Campos said in their statement.

"A further 18 people arrested at the time have been in 'preventative detention', without trial for more than one year," they added.

Scores of allegations of murder, torture and sexual assault are detailed in the report. "In all of these cases, the perpetrators were [allegedly] Angolan police, or the employees of the private security companies employed by the large diamond concessionaires," Marques and Campos said.

UNHCHR's Bye said the UN was disappointed that plans by the Angolan national assembly's human rights committee to conduct an enquiry in the provinces appeared to have stalled.

"We would very much encourage the standing committee of human rights to stick to its original intentions," Bye told IRIN.

The allegations should be probed by the government, the police and the attorney general, as well as an independent body, he noted.

If the allegations are confirmed, the individuals responsible should be brought to justice. Failing that, Bye said the issue could be brought to the attention of international bodies, such as the UN's special rapporteurs for arbitrary detentions and involuntary disappearances, for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, and for violence against women.

In addition to the alleged rights abuses, the report argued that the Lunda regions offered few economic opportunities other than diamond mining, with provincial governors having the final say in granting commercial and farming licences.

Such control, coupled with the outlawing of informal mining, "forces most diggers to operate on the margins of the law, vulnerable to extortion, imprisonment and even murder," the authors claimed.

Theme (s): Economy, Governance, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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