Panorama: Mugabe’s Blood Diamonds

BBC Panorama will reveal evidence of torture camps in and near Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields in a special undercover investigation to be broadcast tonight (Monday 8 August) on BBC One.

In Panorama: Mugabe’s Blood Diamonds reporter Hilary Andersson hears first hand accounts of brutal beatings, rape and prisoners being savaged by dogs, while former policemen who worked in the camps tell of how they carried out the torture and why.

“Even if someone dies there the soldiers do not disclose, because they don’t want it known”, an officer in Zimbabwe’s military tells the programme.

Uncovering what took place when the Zimbabwean military launched an operation to clear informal miners from the area’s diamond fields in 2008, Andersson meets people like Tinashe and Vimbai (names have been changed).

Tinashe was digging with his brother when the soldiers arrived: “Suddenly military trucks arrived and surrounded the fields. There were different sounds. But what I clearly remember was the sound of guns and grenades. When my brother was running, he was shot in the back and died instantly.”

Vimbai had been selling clothes to those digging the fields when the three week clearance began: “What I can remember is being dragged into the bush by one soldier. He then raped me. I could hear other people screaming and crying, female voices. It meant they were being raped like me.”

Panorama’s investigation comes as the EU is trying to broker a deal to allow some of Marange’s diamonds back onto world markets with the approval of the Kimberley Process, set up to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. The EU does however want to see ongoing human rights monitoring throughout the Marange diamond area.

The sales ban on Marange diamonds was put in place two years ago because of reports of killings and abuses in the diamond fields in late 2008. Tonight’s Panorama exposes the truth behind the worst single atrocity of President Mugabe’s last 20 years in power.

Soldiers and paramilitary policemen who took part tell of how they encircled thousands of civilians in the diamond fields, including women and children, and trapped them. They said they then opened fire directly on the civilians with automatic weapons.

“Most of the guys who were deployed, they were shooting directly [at] the people with the AK47”, said one paramilitary policeman who was there.

Witnesses spoke of bodies littering the diamond fields and of a stench that stayed for weeks. Eye witnesses said they saw bodies left lying in the fields, soldiers finishing off the injured and military dogs ripping victims apart. During the investigation Panorama confirmed the site of a mass grave in the area.

When the BBC shared the extensive dossier of evidence with Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, he responded: “These could be crimes against humanity. I cannot make any comment on your specific case but crimes against humanity can be committed when there is widespread killings, attacks against the civilian population or systematic attacks against civilian population. The issue would be who organized the crimes, who ordered the crimes.”

Until the EU’s proposed deal to partially lift the sales ban goes through, the EU, and therefore Britain, is technically boycotting Marange diamonds. But some Marange diamonds are already trickling onto world markets and as tonight’s programme shows high street shoppers here in the UK could buy one without knowing it.

Panorama: Mugabe’s Blood Diamonds will be broadcast tonight on BBC One at 8.30pm.