Petra Diamond’s mine guards face fresh human rights abuses claims

Zenith Security guards at the Williamson diamond mine. (Image courtesy of RAID | Twitter.)

UK-based corporate watchdog RAID said on Thursday it had further evidence that guards employed by Petra Diamonds (LON:PDL) at its Williamson diamond mine in Tanzania deliberately caused “serious harm” to local residents shot on the company’s concession.

The fresh report includes eye witness accounts indicating that Zenith Security guards employed at the diamond mine intentionally swapped rubber projectiles with metal shot in their weapons to intimidate trespassers.

While rubber bullets can cause serious injury, even kill, they are not supposed to penetrate, whereas “the gun pellets can enter someone’s body and stay there,” a former security guard told RAID. “Someone would need an operation to remove them, and if they are close to the gun, they can definitely cause death.”

RAID said it has found proof of 10 killings and 50 injuries of local residents by security personnel, with the most recent assault occurring in late December 2020.

The NGO noted the information was uncovered as part of ongoing research into human rights abuses at the mine.

“Deliberately altering ammunition to cause indiscriminate injury, even death, to local residents raises serious questions about Petra Diamonds’ oversight of security at its diamond mine in Tanzania,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, executive director of RAID. 

Petra reacted to the report by saying it had taken a number of actions to address the situation at the mine, including the replacement of the third-party security contractor Zenith.

The diamond miner, which also has three operations in South Africa, formed in February an internal committee to oversee the ongoing investigation. The probe is being carried out by a specialist external advisor in conjunction with the company’s lawyers.

“We are committed to provide feedback on the investigation being carried out by an external advisor, in conjunction with our legal advisors; the scope of this investigation already includes the allegations mentioned by RAID in their report,” the company said on Thursday.

UK-based law firm Leigh Day filed similar claims against the South African miner in May 2020 in the High Court of England. Those accusations included reports of personal injuries and deaths at the diamond mine, allegedly caused by security guards.

Petra, which has repeatedly stated it takes allegations of human rights abuses “extremely seriously”, launched last year an investigation into the law firm’s claims, as well as previous accusations brought forward by RAID.

In February, the diamond miner revealed it had since received new reports of incidents involving security operations at its Williamson mine spanning to January 2021. 

The company previously said that there have been frequent organized incursions onto the concession of illegal diggers, sometimes in large numbers, who are believed to be sponsored by local dealers in illicit diamonds.

The Williamson mine, active since 1940, is in Shinyanga, one of Tanzania’s poorest regions. It produced a 54.5-carat pink diamond presented to Queen Elizabeth for her wedding in 1947.

The mine has been shut since April, when Petra put it on care and maintenance after the coronavirus pandemic caused rough diamond prices to plunge. Petra was already struggling before the pandemic hit and had to put itself up for sale. It reversed the decision in October, opting instead for a debt-for-equity restructuring, which was completed earlier this month.

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