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Kimberly Process Officials Urge Zimbabwe to Release Imprisoned Diamond Activist

Human Rights Watch released a report in Israel coinciding with the start of the Kimberly session saying diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange field should not be certified to be sold on the international market

A meeting of the Kimberly Process opened in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday amid calls for Zimbabwean authorities to release activist Farai Maguwu, the incarcerated director of the Center for Research and Development in Mutare, who has been an outspoken critic of the government's development of the Marange diamond field.

Kimberly officials said Maguwu’s arrest was uncalled for and an unjust attempt to suppress criticism. Kimberly Chairman Boaz Hirsch opened the session with a call for Maguwu’s release.

World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff called on the monitoring group to change the way that it makes decisions on certification. The Kimberly Process works by consensus, meaning that a country like Zimbabwe can remain a member though most Kimberly members want it to be suspended for failure to meet standards.

Izhakoff said Zimbabwe remains the most pressing issue for the Kimberly Process. He said that basic human rights are being violated in connection with development of the Marange field.

"Our goal as human beings is to ensure that the citizens of Zimbabwe are able to go about their lives without their basic rights being violated," said Izhakoff. He said his organization is concerned about Marange.

"The Kimberley Process will continue to pay dividends if we keep our eyes on the ball, and in the case of Zimbabwe that means monitoring carefully what is happening in Marange. We will not rest until this diamond producing area is operating for the benefit of all the country's citizens," he said.

Kimberly monitor Abbey Chikane also called for Maguwu’s release – but stuck to his recommendation to Kimberly members that Zimbabwe should be allowed to export diamonds from the Marange field.

Human Rights Watch researcher Tiseke Kasambala, in Tel Aviv, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the situation in Zimbabwe dominated Kimberly Process debate on Monday.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report in Israel coinciding with the start of the Kimberly session saying Zimbabwean diamonds should not be certified to be sold on the international market.

The group charged that Zimbabwe had failed to improve its human rights record in the Marange diamond field and should formally be suspended from the Kimberley Process. But some activists say such a move would play into the hands of those responsible for Marange abuses, as there would then be no monitoring mechanism.

The Zimbabwean government has denied rights violations took place in Marange, charging that its detractors do not want to see the country benefiting from the rich alluvial diamond deposits.

Kimberley "risks total irrelevance if it ignores these ongoing abuses,” said Human Rights Watch Acting Acting Africa Director Rona Peligal. "If [it] can’t take real action on an issue like Zimbabwe, then what is it good for?”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Coordinator McDonald Lewanika said Zimbabwean activists sent a representative to make their case, seeking a permanent Kimberly regulator in Zimbabwe rather than a part-time monitor.

In Harare, meanwhile, a High Court judge dismissed a bail appeal by Maguwu, accused of publishing falsehoods injurious to state interests, as correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported.