The story of how the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has managed to effectively defend communities and fight for environmental and social justice in Zimbabwe and at the global level has been told to several people willing to lend us their ear.
So as I was flipping through the pages of our state owned Newspaper, the Herald, one headline caught my eye; The tragedy of NGOs singing for their supper. Your guess on what to expect in the story is as good as mine. Then I thought to myself, how about we set the record straight on what has influenced ZELA’s global process. Spare a few minutes and read this;
Inspired by international environmental justice movements, ZELA was formed with the sole purpose of confronting and speaking truth to power using research information and evidence from victims of abuse in the natural resources sector. Balancing community work, national level engagements and international policy work is not easy. However, ZELA has managed to chart its way up to international forums using its community mobilisation and community voice approach as a ladder to greater heights. Perhaps what brought global and regional attention to ZELA was one high value commodity and mineral in Zimbabwe-diamonds. Certainly, this was due to the organisation’s ability to generate credible, factual and community generated human rights case stories and testimonies from Marange diamond fields in a non-alarmist and reassuring way for the attention of global audiences and local decision makers. This earned ZELA a good reputation as a credible organisation. In profiling and reporting the horrors of Marange, ZELA would gather first-hand experience and testimonies of victims and families of maimed artisanal miners when the Zimbabwean military and police unleashed a combined reign of terror through beatings and shootings to remove informal miners from the diamond fields in 2007 -2012. The campaign had left more than 200 dead. In such cases, ZELA would sift through fake and real stories of abuse through cross-checking. Consequently, in order to enhance community-based reporting and gathering of information, ZELA replicated and instituted the concept of community monitoring-an empowering tool for communities to gather, package and disseminate information on human rights abuses including environmental harm, water pollution, loss of land, beatings and smuggling of diamonds. The concept is used in other countries.
The first milestone and result of ZELA’s work in Marange at the national level was its selection as the Kimberley Process (KP) Civil Society Coalition representatives in Zimbabwe to lead a network of seven local civil society organisations to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Marange. ZELA strongly relied on community reports to compile and file monitoring reports to the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process is an international body mandated by the United Nations to regulate trade of diamonds to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds that can be used by rebel movements and their allies to finance conflict. Marange diamonds were embargoed by the KP in 2009 following cases of smuggling, killing of informal miners and illicit trade of diamonds. ZELA’s community-led monitoring and reporting on Marange significantly achieved many results including helping the KP to lift the embargo on trade of Zimbabwe diamonds, reduction of human rights violations in Marange and removal of the military from Marange. This marked the importance of working at the community level and global level. Community monitoring groups such as the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust and Save-Odzi Community Network were subsequently formed.
By far, the major highlight and definition of ZELA’s global work and footprint was its elevation and election as the global Coordinator of the KP Civil Society Coalition in February 2018. This was due to its enduring work on fighting for human rights, community rights, transparency and accountability, environmental protection and against illicit financial flows in the diamond mining sector. The global KP Civil Society Coalition is made up of 11 groups from African diamond producing countries and one Belgian based group. The coalition’s mission is to defend the rights of vulnerable and poor communities affected by diamond mining. The Kimberley Process (KP) is a tripartite arrangement involving civil society, 80 Governments and the diamond industry to fight against trade of conflict diamonds. However, the KP has failed to tackle emerging cases and new forms of human rights violations such as child labour, environmental pollution, poor labour practices and displacements perpetrated by state security, private security and mining companies. As a result, ZELA and other civil society groups have been calling for reforms in the KP including the expansion of the definition of conflict diamonds.
ZELA’s coordination role involves ensuring effective participation of civil society and community groups in global KP meetings and events including national level monitoring and outreach to mining affected communities. This is a huge responsibility for ZELA as the first African group to coordinate the KP Civil Society Coalition after its successive coordination by Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada (now IMPACT). As the leader of the coalition, ZELA is currently involved in negotiations with the powerful diamond industry and major diamond producing and trading countries to reform the KP to investigate systematic and widespread violations of human rights in diamond mining and trading centres. ZELA has been influencing decisions of the KP through participation in all KP Intersessional and Plenary meetings and Peer Review Missions to other countries to monitor compliance with diamond trading standards including assessing impacts of diamond mining on communities. More importantly, in order for the KP to respond to community needs, ZELA has been calling for the establishment of national tripartite forums involving communities, civil society, government and mining companies that will act as a forum for information sharing and compliance monitoring of impacts of diamond mining at the national level.
Apart from coordinating the global KP Civil Society Coalition, ZELA is also coordinator of the national chapter of the global Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Coalition which calls for public disclosure of mining revenues and contracts. Other international initiatives in which ZELA participates include the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the international Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition, the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines on sourcing of precious stones from conflict affected countries and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Regionally, ZELA has been involved as a Technical Task Force member in the development of the Africa Mineral Governance Framework (AMGF) for the implementation of the African Mining Vision and the SADC Resource Barometer. In all its global work, ZELA actively supports community monitors from Zimbabwe and the region to participate and share their experiences and to learn from others at such global initiatives. Without a doubt, ZELA’s international footprint in the natural resources and mining sector is buoyed by its roots in community empowerment and ability to influence policy reform processes using an evidence-based approach.
The key strategy that ZELA uses to perfect its national and global work is continuous learning and improvement. This is done by observing and documenting experiences and best practices from other countries and innovatively replicating them at home in promoting and protecting the rights of local communities and natural resources governance. As a learning organisation ZELA participates in international forums, conferences, exchange visits and study tours that further expose staff members to new ideas and knowledge. ZELA has therefore designed most of its programmes and projects to suit local needs using international best practice. On the other hand, ZELA uses local solutions and community needs in Zimbabwe to influence and inform global processes.