Investigators for the world's diamond control body say the gems were mined by virtual slaves who had been told to dig or die, and were smuggled out by soldiers who rape and beat civilians.
Yet the Kimberley Process, the diamond body, said those gems don't qualify as "blood diamonds," and instead of sanctioning Zimbabwe is giving the country another chance to get its Marange fields under control.
In a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, investigators for the Kimberley Process had recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended, meaning many consumers would have shunned the country's diamonds. Instead, officials ended their annual deliberations this week with a decision Zimbabwe be given another chance to improve control over its Marange diamond fields.
In a communique issued late Thursday in Namibia, the group said its investigators found evidence of Zimbabwe's "significant noncompliance." Zimbabwe agreed to take steps, including pulling soldiers out and allowing monitors in to become compliant, and the country would be given time to do so under Kimberley Process monitoring, the group said.
According to Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper, a mouthpiece for the ZANU-PF party whose officials are believed to be reaping the proceeds from sales of Marange diamonds, Zimbabwean Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu told the meeting in Namibia that his country needed more technical help from the Kimberley Process to get Marange in order.
The Kimberley Process was established in 2002 by governments, the diamond industry and rights groups in an attempt to stem the flow of "blood diamonds" _ gems sold to fund fighting across Africa.
Thursday's brief communique announcing the decision focused on "illicit trade of Marange diamonds," not the human rights abuses detailed in a report by Kimberley Process investigators who visited Zimbabwe in June and July.
Tiseke Kasambala, a Johannesburg-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the Kimberley Process was interpreting its mandate too narrowly.
"The Zimbabwe diamonds definitely qualify as blood diamonds," she told The Associated Press Friday. "Human rights should be respected in each member state" of the Kimberley Process.
Global Witness, an international human rights groups that helped establish the process, also has called for it to be strengthened. Global Witness's Annie Dunneback, who was in Namibia for the meetings, said her group was "very disappointed" with the outcome.
"We feel that this points to fundamental weaknesses in the scheme and also points to a serious lack of political will," she said Friday, adding Global Witness questioned whether Zimbabwe would live up to its commitment to clean up Marange.
The Kimberley Process investigators had recommended that Zimbabwe either be suspended or voluntarily suspend itself.
"Lawlessness, particularly when combined with violence and largely overseen by government entities, should not be the hallmark of any system ... deemed to be compliant" with the Kimberley Process, the investigators said in a report reviewed at this week's Namibia meetings.
The investigators had interviewed miners who told of working for soldiers who allowed them to keep only 10 percent of the proceeds of any diamonds recovered. The witnesses described what happened to those who refused to work for the soldiers:
"Each one of these illegal miners reported seeing people killed and the numbers they cited ranged from one to seven. This group also told members of the team that they observed extreme violence against illegal miners" by soldiers using rifles, dogs, batons and tear gas.
The report said women "reported that, while under the custody of the security forces, they were raped repeatedly by military officers and that they have been forced to engage in sex with illegal miners."
According to Kimberley Process officials, Zimbabwe exported nearly 800,000 carats of diamonds from three fields, including Marange, last year.