/ 5 November 2011

Indian jewellers eye import of Zim ‘blood diamonds’

Indian imports of gems from Zimbabwe, once banned as “blood diamonds”, could begin within weeks, officials with India’s world-leading jewellery industry said on Saturday.

India’s gem and jewellery export council hailed the recent decision by the Kimberley Process, which governs global trade in diamonds, to allow Zimbabwe to sell $2-billion in rough diamonds from the Marange fields. The African nation had been under international sanctions since 2009 because of allegations of rights violations and torture by government troops in Marange.

Zimbabwe has denied allegations of human rights abuses. Rajiv Jain, president of India’s Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, said Tuesday’s decision would stabilise the world diamond business by encouraging traders to keep illicit diamonds out of the system.

Jain said while it was difficult to estimate the volume of trade from Zimbabwe, the industry has been keenly awaiting the ruling on exports from the southern African country.

“Zimbabwe diamonds are 40 to 50% cheaper than diamonds from other sources. This will give a boost to the industry,” Jain said.

Sabyasachi Ray, the council’s director, said the imports should begin within weeks, once the government completes formalities to lift an embargo.

India is the world’s biggest processor of diamonds, employing more than 1.5 million workers, with thousands of processing units located mostly in the western Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Eleven out of every 12 diamonds used in jewellery worldwide are cut and polished in India, according to the council.

According to the council, Indian gem and jewellery exports jumped 47% to $43-billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, from $29.4-billion the previous year.

With Zimbabwe diamonds off limits, the industry had been sourcing its stones from South Africa, Congo and Russia through the diamond hub in Belgium, Ray said.

The Kimberley Process was set up in 2002 after brutal wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia that were fuelled by “blood diamonds”. Participant nations are now forced to certify the origins of the diamonds being traded, assuring consumers that they are not financing war or human rights abuses.

The 60 000-hectare Marange field in eastern Zimbabwe was discovered in 2006 at the height of Zimbabwe’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis. It is believed to be the biggest find in the world since the 19th century and it triggered a chaotic diamond rush.

Human Rights Watch has accused Zimbabwean troops of killing more than 200 people, raping women and forcing children to search for the gems in Marange fields but the Kimberley Process allowed 900 000 carats of diamonds to be auctioned last year. The latest move allows all diamonds from the area — a stockpile of 4.5 million stones — to be sold. — Sapa-AP