Bermuda firm cited in ‘blood diamond’ case
HAMILTON, Bermuda, Thursday March 8, 2012 – Bermuda has found itself entangled in an international case involving torture and murder in the diamond fields of north-eastern Angola.
The case, which involves a Bermuda-registered mining company, implicates some of the top figures in Angola’s military and security establishment.
Angola’s attorney general Joa Maria Moreira De Sousa summoned witnesses to testify in the case, which started March 5 with the witnesses’ hearings in the Angolan capital, Luanda.
The respondents named in the case are partners in the Angolan mining company Sociedade Lumanhe and the directors of Bermuda-based ITM Mining, which together make up the SMC consortium in partnership with the state company Endiama. According to the attorney general’s office, ITM Mining is registered at Corner House, 20 Parliament Street, Hamilton and has a representative office in Luanda. Its director and president is listed as Angolan Renato Herculano Texeira.
The partners of Teleservice, most of whom are also partners in Sociedade Lumanhe, are also named as respondents.
Respondents in the case include General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias, Minister of State and head of the Military Bureau in the Angolan presidency, as well as a close confidante and business associate of President José Eduardo dos Santos. Also named are three former commanders in chief of the Angolan Armed Forces: General António dos Santos França Ndalu, General João de Matos and General Armando da Cruz Neto.
The case was brought before Attorney General De Sousa on November 14, 2011, by Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, who had been investigating rights abuses connected with the diamond industry since 2004. In his deposition to the attorney general, Marques referred to testimony that implicates the mining consortium Sociedade Mineira do Cuango [SMC] in acts of torture and murder against local populations and against informal diamond miners.
Testimony presented to the attorney general also implicates the private security company Teleservice and its representatives as the perpetrators of the acts of torture and murder, which constitute crimes against humanity under the Angolan constitution.
The attorney general has summoned the ten witnesses whose names were put forward by Marques to give testimony. All are residents of Lunda Norte province, and were either victims of torture, or witnessed abuses being carried out.
The north-eastern provinces of Lunda-Norte and Lunda-Sul are Angola’s richest diamond-producing areas and were fiercely contested during the civil war. During the 1990s, diamonds from the Lunda region were an important source of revenue for the UNITA rebel movement.
Since the end of the war in 2002, the government has granted mining concessions to companies owned by senior military figures and others with close links to the regime. The concessionaires are authorised to control all economic activity within the concession areas. This has destroyed the livelihoods not only of the “garimpeiros”, the informal diamond diggers who used to make a living from digging and sifting gravel by hand, but also of peasant farmers who have lost access to their land.
According to Marques, many of the same generals who own the mining companies have also set up security companies to keep local people out of the concession areas. These companies have enjoyed impunity from the law while carrying out acts of torture, abduction and, in some cases, murder against people who live in the region. One of these companies is Teleservice, whose shareholders are among the respondents in the case.
International attention to the issue of “blood diamonds” during the 1990s led to the certification scheme known as the Kimberley Process, which was intended to block the trade in diamonds mined in conflict zones and to ensure compliance with ethical norms. But Marques pointed out that the Kimberley Process is ineffective in Angola today where abuses continue long after the war ended.
“Under the Kimberley Process the state has the responsibility of certifying that diamonds mined in its national territory comply with ethical standards,” Marques said. “In Angola, the process is worthless, since senior state officials have been complicit in some of the worst human rights abuses associated with the diamond industry: the destruction of livelihoods as well as torture and murder.”