Many in our industry are wary of the NGOs, which don’t always paint the most flattering portrait of our industry. But some of them, particularly those based in African countries, often do their work under considerable threat. They are brave people.
I have now interviewed two NGO activists who have been arrested. The first, Farai Maguwu, head of the Zimbabwe NGO Centre for Research and Development, was accused of passing government secrets to the Kimberley Process monitor in 2010. He spent 40 days in jail and nearly died. When the KP agreed to allow limited Marange exports, Maguwu’s release was part of the deal, helped in part by the efforts of the World Diamond Council.
Now, Rafael Marques de Morais, an Angolan author and activist who has written and spoken frequently about the human rights problems in the country’s diamond fields (including to JCK), has been charged with defamation by seven government-connected generals over his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola. He is currently standing trial in his home country, where apparently defamation is a criminal offense. (He was sued for defamation in Portugal over the book; the charges were tossed.) When he showed up for trial on March 24, the court ended up adding more charges.
In a textbook example of the Streisand effect, de Morais’ arrest and trial have brought unprecedented attention to the problems in Angola’s diamond fields. (See articles here, here, and here.) And while this case does not relate to directly to the KP’s mandate, it will inevitably have repercussions, given that, due to spectacularly unfortunate timing, Angola is chairing the KP this year. It certainly doesn’t appear right for a blood diamond watchdog to be headed by a country that might jail a blood diamond activist.
The Kimberley Process was designed to stop conflict diamonds, but at its best it also presents a forum for NGOs, government officials, and the diamond industry to discuss issues in an open, substantive way—its vaunted tripartite structure. Cases like these strike at the heart of what the KP tries to do.