Angola's Diamond Diggers Abused, Says Report

June 24, 2004

Angola's Diamond Diggers Abused, Says Report

Human rights groups such as Global Witness are pressuring for a crackdown on the abuse of poor diamond diggers in Angola, says The Financial Times of London. FT reports that in Angola's alluvial diamond fields, freelance miners – called garimpeiros – also speak of "exploitative and life-threatening working conditions." Angola has more than 1,000 sites of what it calls "artisanal" diamond mining, where diggers work in open areas instead of guarded, closed mines.

Angola has been approved to export rough diamonds through the KImberley Process Certification Scheme, which guarantees each country's diamonds traded within the system are free of conflict. But some analysts believe Angolan workers are still abused by the industry and the state. "The Kimberley Process has no mechanism to keep a check on abuses that are carried out by, or with the complicity of, the state and its agents," South Africa's Institute for Security Studies concluded in a report on Angola's eastern region. "Perhaps it is time to rethink the idea of what constitutes a blood diamond."

Garimpeiros typically work in groups of four, says FT, supported by a patron who provides tools or other support. With few employment alternatives in rural Angola, men flock to the sites. But local leaders say the industry has not benefited the diamond-rich eastern region of Angola, which remains among Angola's poorest. A primary school in Saurimo, the provincial capital of the eastern region's Lunda Sul province can average 70 children to a class. The town has an erratic power supply and a hospital bereft of medical equipment.

"The levels of misery here are the worst in Angola," says Eugenio Dal Corso, Saurimo's Roman Catholic bishop. "People are very much aware that the riches of this country are being taken out of the land." Diamond-mining companies pay taxes to Angola's government, but little money makes its way back to the east, say observers. In April, Angola also faced international criticism when its army expelled thousands of immigrant Congolese workers, mostly garimpeiros, over the nearby border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The army was also accused of a variety of human rights abuses affecting the miners and their families ("Human Rights Abuses Reported on Diamond Miners Near Angola-DRC Border," April 27).

Diamond mining companies come in for their share of blame too. FT says the mining companies employ security personnel, and some have been accused of brutally evicting garimpeiros. The mining companies are also accused of restricting locals' access to farmland, endangering the region's only other major industry.

Calls are increasing for better regulation of the diamond industry in Angola, where the government also faces pressure for more accountability in managing its oil industry. "What we want is a transparent government that can manage resources for the benefit of the people," says José Pami, a local politician aligned with the Partido Renovador Social, one of eastern Angola's biggest parties.

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