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Mine that produced Queen's diamond investigates claims of abuses by guards

Petra Diamonds already faces court action on similar grounds, as its contractors are accused of continued assaults on illegal miners

Artisanal diamond miners on land near the Williamson complex in Mwadui. illegal miners have allegedly been beaten by the mine’s security guards. (Raid UK)

A Tanzanian mine that produced a flawless pink diamond for one of the Queen’s favourite brooches is investigating claims that security personnel have shot and assaulted illegal miners.

New allegations come months after a lawsuit alleging “serious” human rights abuses was filed against Petra Diamonds, the mine’s British owner, in the high court in London.

The London Stock Exchange-listed company, whose shares dropped 80% last year amid plummeting diamond prices, claims to be an “ethical diamonds” seller.

In September 2020, the British legal firm Leigh Day filed claims of human rights violations, including deaths, on behalf of 35 Tanzanians who allege that they, or their relatives, had been beaten or shot at by security guards at the Williamson diamond mine.

Petra, whose subsidiary Williamson Diamonds Ltd (WDL) owns 75% of the mine (the Tanzanian state owns the other 25%), said it took the allegations “extremely seriously” and last year launched an investigation through a specialist third party.

The firm launched another investigation into similar claims levelled in November 2020 by the British charity Rights and Accountability in Development (Raid). Based on research conducted between September 2019 and November 2020, Raid alleged that illegal miners had been detained, tortured and beaten by Williamson security guards, resulting in at least seven deaths.

Petra is now investigating further allegations by Raid involving security personnel between November 2020 and January 2021, among them shootings and assaults, the company said in a statement last month.

Guards from Petra’s security contractor, Zenith. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The firm said it had recorded 79 “incursions” at the 30 sq km (12 sq mile) Williamson site over the three-month period, 19 of which required “reasonable force” to remove illegal miners from the premises or for security to defend themselves.

Petra said it did not find evidence of unjustified use of force by security personnel or of injuries as described in Raid’s allegations. In one alleged incident in December 2020, one artisanal miner told Raid he was chased by a security guard from the mine’s private contractor, Zenith Security, who shot him at close range, breaking his jaw. When he regained consciousness, a guard was standing over him, he told Raid.

Petra said it could not verify this allegation. “No confrontations with illegal diggers were reported by Zenith or WDL on the night in question, with no injuries reported and no shots fired,” it said in a statement. “The firearm and rubber round registers maintained by Zenith also record that no baton rounds were fired on this night.”

In response to other allegations, the statement continued: “Regrettably the encounters between the security patrols, performed by guards from Zenith and the Tanzanian police, and the illegal diggers have resulted in injuries being suffered on all sides. Tragically, some deaths of illegal diggers have also been reported and are being investigated by the specialist external adviser as part of the broader investigation.”

Zenith Security did not respond to requests for comment.

Petra has suspended the mine’s chief of security and head of general services pending the investigation’s outcome, and has also put out a tender for a new security contractor to replace Zenith. The company said it has also provided security and human rights training to staff, implemented a grievance mechanism, and is looking into providing an artisanal tailings project, whereby local people can dig for diamonds in a controlled and formalised manner.

In a statement, Petra said: “The allegations of human rights abuses relating to the security operations of the Williamson mine in Tanzania are deeply concerning to the executive management team and the board. The newly formed Tunajali Committee, comprised entirely of independent non-executive directors, is undertaking a review of the output of the ongoing external investigation into the allegations and will make recommendations to address any findings. The company intends to make a further announcement on these issues by the end of March 2021.”

Raid’s executive director, Anneke Van Woudenberg, called Petra’s findings a “stark illustration of the steps the company still needs to tackle [its human rights] problem.

The Williamson mine, active since 1940, is in Shinyanga, one of Tanzania’s poorest regions. (Raid-UK)

“Its report of 19 incidents where force was used by its security guards in just the last few months urgently requires independent investigation to get to the bottom of what happened,” she said.

“To date, Raid found evidence of 10 deaths and 50 assaults by security forces at the Williamson mine since Petra took ownership [in 2009]. With such stark statistics, it is impossible to have confidence in Petra’s claim that it is producing ethical diamonds.”

The Williamson mine, which has been active since 1940, is in Shinyanga, one of Tanzania’s poorest regions. A 54.5-carat pink diamond found there was presented to Princess Elizabeth on her marriage in 1947. High-quality pink diamonds are valued at up to $700,000 (£503,000) a carat.

This article was published by The Guardian.


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