By Alex Bell
08 August 2011
Military run torture camps near the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields have been exposed, as pressure increases for the stones to be sold on international markets.
The UK’s BBC Panorama investigative series on Monday revealed how severe beatings and sexual attacks are being meted out at two camps, both situated in the Marange region. The camps are believed have been operational for the last three years.
The primary facility is referred to as ‘Diamond Base’ near the Chiadzwa fields in Marange, which is described by witnesses as a “remote collection of military tents, with an outdoor razor wire enclosure where the prisoners are kept.” The second torture camp is located in nearby Muchena. The ‘prisoners’ who get sent to the torture camps are mainly civilians, either hired illegally as part of military run diamond smuggling syndicates, or caught mining for personal gain.
The BBC series spoke to victims who have recently been released from the camps, and they spoke of their ordeals. One victim who was released in February, told the BBC that ‘Diamond Base’ is “the place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings."
"They beat us 40 whips in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 in the evening," said the man, who still could not use one of his arms after the beatings and could barely walk. "They used logs to beat me here, under my feet, as I lay on the ground. They also used stones to beat my ankles."
Witnesses told the BBC that the men are held in the camp for several days at a time, before new prisoners come in, while women are released more quickly, often after being raped.
"Even if someone dies there, the soldiers do not disclose, because they do not want it known," an officer in Zimbabwe's military told the BBC, on condition of anonymity.
A former member of a paramilitary police unit who worked in the main camp in late 2008 told the BBC that he tortured prisoners by mock-drowning them and whipping them on their genitals. He also said that dogs were methodically ordered by a handler to maul prisoners.
"They would handcuff the prisoner, they would unleash the dogs so that he can bite," he said. "There was a lot of screaming.”
He said one woman was bitten on the breast by the dogs whilst he was working in the camp.
"I do not think she survived," he said.
Another witness the BBC spoke to said he was locked up in Muchena camp in 2008 after police set dogs on him. He was then recaptured last year, and said that “nothing has changed between 2008 and 2010... a lot of people are still being beaten or bitten by dogs."
Diamond sales from Zimbabwe were suspended in 2009 after reports surfaced of serious human rights abuses, including murder, at the diamond fields, said to be one of the largest deposits of alluvial diamonds in the world. But despite mounting evidence of past and ongoing abuses, the international diamond trade watchdog, the Kimberley Process (KP), has been working to get Zim diamonds back on the international market.
The KP has been divided over Zimbabwe, with mainly western members insisting that not enough has been done to improve the mining conditions in Marange. But known allies of the Robert Mugabe regime have meanwhile used their position in the KP to push for Zimbabwe’s return to trade.
These divisions were on display in June when a KP meeting in Kinshasa ended with no consensus on Zimbabwe’s future.
Alan Martin from the civil society organisation Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), told SW Radio Africa on Monday that what the BBC has uncovered “does not come as a surprise.” He said that these kinds of claims have been reported to the KP before.
According to the BBC, a KP official said the claims of the torture camps had not been reported to the monitoring group.
But PAC’s Martin said “the KP is turning into a big ostrich.”
“They are denying very clear and evident examples of ongoing non-compliance at Marange. Clearly we have a KP that is offering sweetheart deals to regimes like ZANU PF who clearly don’t deserve them, while burying their heads in the sand,” Martin said.
The BBC claims come as the European Union (EU) is pushing to let some banned diamonds from Zimbabwe back onto world markets. In an internal document seen by the BBC the EU said it was confident that two mines in the area now meet international standards and it wants diamonds from those areas to be immediately approved for export. One of these mines includes the Mbada mine, which is one mile from the main ‘Diamond Base’ torture camp exposed by the BBC.
Martin said the EU’s position is “disappointing,” but also a sign that the KP “has no interest in this.
“They are looking for a face-saving deal with Zimbabwe. But they forget that they are undermining themselves and what they stand for, and they are also doing a great disservice to the people of Zimbabwe, especially the people of Marange,” Martin said.
See: BBC News - Panorama - Victims speak of massacre in Zimbabwe diamond fields