Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Charles Taylor tribunal dominated by Naomi Campbell
The “dirty stones” allegedly given to Naomi Campbell by Charles Taylor, the African warlord, have dominated his UN trial for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
The incident at a star studded gala banquet hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997 has overshadowed harrowing testimony from victims linking the former Liberian president to war crimes and mass amputations carried out by Sierra Leone’s RUF rebels.
The link is critical because Mr Taylor, 63, is accused by prosecutors of trading in “blood diamonds” to fund Sierra Leone brutal and bloody civil war, in which 120,000 people died over 10 years.
Testimony from Miss Campbell and Mia Farrow, the American actress, who was also present at the dinner, has provided headlines for a case, the first prosecution of a former African head of state, that has often struggled to grab the world’s attention.
Last August, Miss Campbell, the model, known for wearing expensive jewellery, said that she had been given some uncut stones as an unsolicited gift form an unknown admirer after the event hosted by Mr Mandela but she did not know they were diamonds.
“They were very, small, dirty looking stones. They were kind of dirty looking pebbles. They were dirty. I don’t know, when I’m used to seeing diamonds, I am used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box,” she said.
Miss Farrow has accused the supermodel of lying in her evidence that described Miss Campbell excitedly describing the gift of diamonds.
“As I recall it she was quite excited and said, 'oh my god, in the middle of night I was awakened by knocking at the door. It was men sent by Charles Taylor and he sent me a huge diamond’,” she said.
UN judges are likely to rule on whose story the court believed in June.
The value of diamonds looted by Sierra Leone’s rebels and allegedly traded for weapons with Mr Taylor, a warlord and then president in neighbouring Liberia, could have been as high as £950 million.
For most of the 11 year period of the conflict in Sierra Leone, the country’s diamond producing zones, which account for two per cent of the world’s production, were in control of the Revolutionary United Front, the insurgents supported by Mr Taylor.
The trade in 1999, at the height of the conflict, was estimated by the World bank to have been potentially worth $138 million a year. Instead of helping Sierra Leone, the world’s poorest country, the diamonds were siphoned off to arm and supply the rebels that left 120,000 people dead and millions homeless.
The popular Hollywood film, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, dramatised the role of the gemstone in Sierra Leone’s civil war, which took place between 1991 and 2001. Blood or conflict diamonds are the name for gems mined illegally, and often under violent coercion, in African warzones.
The diamonds are then used to fund warlords or insurgents trying to take over a country. The trade in conflict diamonds has been blamed for fuelling conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and the Congo.
Following the Sierra Leone war, the UN set up the Kimberley Process to regulate the trade in uncut or rough diamonds. The new rules are implemented in 75 countries, including all European nations, which account for 99.8 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds.
Miss Campbell’s gems have been handed over to the authorities in South Africa for analysis after she gave them to a children’s charity organiser.
By Bruno Waterfield, Brussels