Johannesburg - Foreign banks with investments in Zimbabwe are enabling human rights abuses by failing to stop local partners from facilitating illegal sales of the country's diamonds, rights groups said Tuesday.
The groups called on Barclays, Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK]
and other banks with ties to Zimbabwe to audit their local partners for evidence of involvement in the sale of gems from the Marange diamond fields, which have been restricted since 2009 under the Kimberley Process, the international "blood diamond" watchdog.
The call comes as the groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) published what they say is a leaked document from the parastatal Mineral Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, offering to sell more than $200m (€138m) in illegal Marange diamonds through three Zimbabwean banks.
"This shows Zimbabwe was wilfully in breach of the universally respected ban on Marange diamonds," PAC research director Alan Martin told journalists.
He said foreign banks with ties to the three Zimbabwean banks are "exposing themselves to reputational harm".
Britain-based Barclays and South Africa-based Standard Bank both have multi-million dollar investments in the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, one of the banks suggested in the March memo as a vehicle to facilitate the illegal diamond sale, Martin said.
And the World Bank-affiliated International Finance Corporation (IFC) has extended an $89m loan to BancABC, another of the Zimbabwean banks, he added.
"By facilitating these transactions, Barclays, Stanbic (Standard Bank) and the IFC are participating in diamond-related violence," he said.
Gems from Marange, touted as one of the richest diamond finds of the decade, have been tainted by reports that the Zimbabwean military gunned down more than 200 local miners in 2008 and has set up a torture camp where locals are forced to mine the gems.
HRW says profits from the gems have gone to fund President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
HRW senior researcher Tiseke Kasambala said on Tuesday the area continues to be the scene of "barbaric" attacks by police and private security guards, who have shot and beaten local miners and unleashed attack dogs against them.