De Beers Cleared of U.N. DRC Charges; Botswana Denies Link Between Iman and Bushmen

May 14, 2004

De Beers Cleared of U.N. DRC Charges; Botswana Denies Link Between Iman and Bushmen

Allegations made by a United Nations Expert Panel against De Beers have proven to be unsubstantiated, according to the United Kingdom Department of Trade and Industry, which evaluated the claims for the U.K. government. The U.N. panel, during its investigations into the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, made allegations in two reports published in October 2002 and October 2003 that De Beers had breached a set of guidelines for multi-national companies.

The U.N. panel did not allege that De Beers itself purchased or otherwise dealt in diamonds produced in the DRC that exploited the country, but rather that three of De Beers' clients had purchased diamonds there. De Beers says it contacted the three clients immediately when it became aware of the basis of the panel's allegations. Each of the clients assured De Beers that their buying activities had been accompanied by official government documentation and, in addition, that they had stopped their buying activities in the DRC following notification from the panel, according to De Beers.

Following the publication of the panel's first report in October 2002, De Beers says it gave a detailed response to the panel addressing the allegations raised by it. Nevertheless, the panel restated its allegations in a second report in October 2003. It is those repeated allegations the U.K. government has now determined are not able to be substantiated.

"I am delighted by the statement from [the U.K. government] following the series of meetings that have taken place with representatives of the De Beers group regarding the allegations contained in the U.N. Expert Panel report on the DRC," says Gary Ralfe, managing director of the De Beers group. "De Beers has over the years developed a strong relationship with the United Nations with particular reference to the group's leadership role in conflict resolution. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised De Beers on the subject when he said that 'De Beers has set an example with its response to the criticism of the diamond trade in Africa.'"

In related news, the government of Botswana restated on May 10 that "allegations by [human rights group] Survival International that Basarwa [the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve] have been forcibly removed from their ancestral land to make way for diamond mining are ... baseless and devoid of any truth."

The government made its statement in response to world press coverage of the conclusion of a contract between celebrity Iman and De Beers LV, a joint venture company between De Beers group and Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). Press reports have suggested that Iman gave up her job as the "face" of De Beers diamond jewelry as a protest against the Bushmen issue in Botswana. De Beers LV has denied this claim, pointing out the celebrity was simply at the end of a two-year contract that was not being renewed. Iman has not commented on the matter.

Besides the government of Botswana, local human rights groups in Botswana who campaign for the Bushmen have also confirmed there is no connection between the government's relocation of the Bushmen and any diamond mining plans. " While De Beers respects Survival International's right to campaign on behalf of indigenous peoples, it is quite improper in this case to involve diamond mining in an unrelated dispute. This has repeatedly been made clear to Stephen Corry of Survival International, and De Beers regrets that he continues to attempt to mislead his members, the media and the general public in this way," De Beers said in a prepared statement.

- by Peggy Jo Donahue

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