Forced miners tortured at Zimbabwe's diamond fields: report
A BBC documentary shown Monday alleges the Zimbabwe army runs illegal diamond mining camps where people are tortured and forced into intensive labour, prompting the European Union to demand proof.
The report uncovered tented camps in Zengeni near the premier Marange mines, where prisoners and civilians are forced to mine the gems and are whipped and tortured as punishment.
"We have seen reports from NGOs about alleged torture camps," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said Monday.
"But we've never had any solid evidence to substantiate to us that these camps actually exist," he added.
The Marange fields have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over abuses by President Robert Mugabe's army, forcing the Kimberley Process "blood diamond" watchdog in 2009 to suspend exports of gems from the eastern fields.
The BBC Panorama programme spoke to recent victims who told of "severe beatings and sexual assault," according to the broadcaster's website.
The main camp, known locally as Diamond Base, is a tented military-like enclosure with razor wire, where the workers are held, the report said.
"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.
"It is a place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings," a victim who was released from the main camp in February told the BBC.
"Obviously if these allegations were to be proved true, we would like to have the evidence," Mann added.
A former member of a paramilitary police unit who worked in the camp in late 2008 said that he once tortured prisoners by mock-drowning them and whipping them on their genitals.
Civilians caught mining for themselves are among those punished.
Diamonds were discovered in Marange in 2006, drawing in tens of thousands of small-time miners hoping to get rich quick.
Once the extent of the find became clear, the army cleared the area in late 2008, when Human Rights Watch says more than 200 people were killed, some by helicopter gunships.
Rights monitors said the military then beat and raped civilians to force them to mine the gems.
Harare is said to have stockpiled gems now estimated to be worth up to $5.0 billion (3.5 billion euros).
"They beat us 40 whips in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 in the evening," a man who still could not use one of his arms due to the beating told the BBC.
According to the report, a second camp is located in Muchena, a village in the Marange area.
In June the Kimberley Process watchdog approved the export of rough diamonds from Marange by two companies, in a decision supported by China and India but opposed by Western nations, rights groups and the industry.
Zimbabwe conducted a KP-monitored sale last year, although the move was opposed by countries such as Canada and United States. It raised $100 million dollars according to government figures, after selling 400,000 carats.
© 2011 AFP