A publicly listed British mining company that was the source of one of Queen Elizabeth’s most famous diamonds and markets itself as a producer of ethical gems has been accused of a string of human-rights abuses.
Petra Diamonds has been condemned by an activist group that claims security guards at one of the company’s African mines have killed seven local people and assaulted 41 others, leaving many with “life-changing injuries.”
The company has said it is investigating the allegations, made by British NGO Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID).
The Williamson mine in Tanzania is famous for its pink diamonds. A stunning 54-carat rough diamond discovered there in 1947 was given as a wedding gift to the queen by the mine’s then-owner. The diamond was later set into a Cartier flower brooch that the queen has worn at numerous important state occasions, including the wedding of Charles and Diana. The Royal Collection describes the stone as “the finest pink diamond ever discovered.”
The mine is 25 percent owned by the Tanzanian government and 75 percent owned by British mining company Petra Diamonds, which is listed on London’s ethical stock index FTSE4GOOD and has regularly boasted in annual reports that its policies and “robust internal systems” mean that human rights violations are not considered to be a “material risk” to its business.
“Such claims appear clearly false,” RAID said in its damning and extensive report, which detailed shocking accounts of a de facto private prison being operated on the site, and of individuals being “handcuffed to hospital beds at the mine’s medical facility.”
The alleged killings since 2009 involved six people who were shot dead, while a seventh was purportedly beaten to death. The 41 alleged assaults included 17 shootings, with one of the men injured shot from a distance of 40 meters while fleeing. Many of the individuals interviewed in the report “are in need of medical treatment that they cannot afford” as a result of their injuries, RAID said.
Anneke van Woudenberg, executive director of RAID, told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview that while the disturbing stories coming out of the Williamson mine were “by no means the first time we have heard of security guards running amok,” there were several “uniquely disturbing features” of this inquiry, including the fact Petra Diamonds pitches itself as an ethical company.
“The disjuncture between what they say and what actually happens is stark,” she said.
She added: “We don’t normally see a company with its own detention center where people are kept in squalid and terrible conditions or a company running a hospital on site where they are taking people they have injured on their concession and handcuffing them to beds and denying them medical treatment. When we first heard about it we thought it couldn’t possibly be true, but it is.”
Van Woudenberg said that the company argued the detention facility was a police facility, but said, “We have strong evidence that is not the case. We have spoken to several individuals who never saw police. We have asked to see documents proving this is a police establishment but none have been provided.”
Petra Diamonds, responding to queries from The Daily Beast specifically asking them to comment on the nature of the detention facility or alleged abuses at the mine’s hospital, said that the detention facility has now been closed. They added it “was only ever used by the Tanzanian police force as a temporary police post, and never used by the operator of the mine.”
Petra said the hospital is being upgraded and is a service for workers and the local community.
Van Woudenberg said that the Williamson mine appears to have grown accustomed to operating with impunity partly because of its heritage as a former colonial mine and the fact that the local town is located entirely within its lands.
In a statement, Petra Diamonds said it was “working hard to address the allegations as a matter of urgency… and an investigation has been initiated and is being carried out by a specialist external adviser in conjunction with the company’s lawyers.”