If former Liberian president Charles Taylor is jailed for crimes against humanity, he will not be able to pin it on British supermodel Naomi Campbell. Last week, Campbell testified at Taylor’s trial in The Hague, Netherlands. Prosecutors are trying to prove that Taylor used revenue from rough diamond sales to help finance a brutal, 11-year civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. In her testimony, Campbell did not present concrete evidence against Taylor, though she did succeed in bringing major media hype to the trial and to the ongoing problem of blood diamonds.
As we wrote in a previous blog, in 1997 both Campbell and Taylor attended a dinner in South Africa hosted by Nelson Mandela. Prosecutors have been seeking Campbell’s testimony regarding reports that, in the middle of the night following the dinner, Taylor’s agents knocked on Campbell’s hotel room door and presented her with an enormous rough, or uncut, diamond as a gift. Because Taylor testified that he never possessed any rough diamonds at all, prosecutors believed that Campbell’s testimony could help show that Taylor had lied under oath and that he had trafficked in blood diamonds.
Campbell was an extremely reluctant witness, having expressed concerns prior to appearing that Taylor might retaliate against her or her family if she testified. She agreed to testify only in response to a subpoena from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the war crimes tribunal that is trying Taylor. Last week, wearing a conservative, cream-colored dress, she appeared in court and told prosecutors her version of events. According to Campbell, the night following the Mandela dinner men had indeed knocked on her door and presented her with a pouch of stones. However, she said she did not know whether the men were Taylor’s agents, and she was unsure of whether they were diamonds at all. “I saw a few stones in there. And they were small, dirty-looking stones,” she recalled, explaining that she was “used to seeing diamonds shining in a box.” Campbell said that after receiving the diamonds, she handed them over to a trustee for Nelson Mandela’s children’s charity.
Some of Campbell’s testimony has been contradicted by subsequent testimony by actress Mia Farrow, who also attended the Mandela dinner, and by Carol White, Campbell’s former agent who was also present at the dinner. Farrow testified that the morning after the dinner, Campbell told her that Taylor’s men had presented her with a single, enormous diamond the previous night. “She [Campbell] said ‘Oh my God, last night I was awakened by men knocking at the door and it was men sent by Charles Taylor and he sent me a huge diamond,’” Farrow testified. White, with whom Campbell is involved in a separate legal dispute, told the court an account which also diverges from Campbell’s. According to White’s testimony, Campbell had been flirting with Taylor at the Mandela dinner and Taylor had told Campbell to expect to receive a diamond gift that night.
It appears that South African police are now in possession of the stones Campbell handed over to the charity trustee and that it may be possible to confirm that the stones are diamonds. However, given the hazy and conflicting testimony of the three women regarding events that happened 13 years ago, it may be difficult to prove that the stones were actually a gift from Taylor. While we believe it that it is critical for Taylor to be held accountable for his actions, the real value of this episode may lie in the media circus surrounding Campbell’s testimony. Over the last week, the issue of blood diamonds has been back on the front pages. Although it might be argued that all this attention to Campbell’s testimony is trivializing Taylor’s crimes, we think that the end result is still a net positive. Millions of people are learning about or being reminded of the link between diamonds, war, and human rights abuses.
As we often observe in this blog, blood diamonds are not a thing of the past. The Kimberley Process, the international system designed to stop the trade in blood or “conflict” diamonds, was founded in 2003, partly in response to the horrific war in Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process is now failing to put a stop to the flow of blood diamonds from Zimbabwe. Our challenge, as a leading provider of ethical origin jewelry, is to keep raising awareness about unethical diamond mining practices and to continue building consensus for change, even after the media frenzy over Naomi Campbell’s testimony has subsided.
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