Naomi Campbell's War Crimes Testimony: A Primer

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>In September 1997, when Mia Farrow, Quincy Jones, Naomi Campbell, and Liberian warlord-cum-president Charles Taylor gathered for dinner at Nelson Mandela's Cape Town home, it wasn't just the many stars in attendance that glittered that night. According to witnesses, the Liberian president became smitten by Campbell. He directed aides to show up at Campbell's door later that evening with a precious gift: a large, uncut diamond. 


Years later, the story of Sierra Leone's "blood diamonds" now well publicized by the eponymous 2006 Hollywood blockbuster, Campbell has found herself in the midst of an international firestorm: on July 1, she was subpoenaed by an international criminal tribunal to testify as to whether she did, in fact, receive a gem from Charles Taylor in 1997. Campbell is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday -- though the defense filed a motion yesterday to stay the hearing, potentially delaying the British model's appearance.

Mia Farrow, who discussed the diamond with Campbell, is scheduled to testify on August 9. 

In the thirteen years since the gathering in Cape Town, Taylor has served a six-year term as the president of Liberia, been indicted for crimes against humanity by an international criminal tribunal, and fled in exile to Nigeria. He now sits on trial at The Hague, charged by an international criminal tribunal with funding, training, and aiding rebel soldiers throughout the course of Sierra Leone's bloody, decade-long civil war. 

The prosecution at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the United Nations-sponsored tribunal responsible for trying Taylor, has argued that he provided arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds from the nation's lucrative mines (see Prosecutor v. Taylor, pages 271, 300). Taylor has denied the charge, testifying in court that he does not "have any real experience with the diamond business," and that his only diamond possessions of "a couple of rings with diamonds on it, that's it" (p. 32602).

This is where the story of Campbell's gem reappears. 

Lawyers for the prosecution have argued that that in August of 1997, Sierra Leonean rebels delivered a cache of diamonds to Taylor. They assert that Taylor then carried the diamonds with him to South Africa, where he had dinner with Farrow and Campbell. From there, the prosecution alleges, he traveled to several other countries, including Libya and Burkina Faso, where he sold the diamonds in exchange for a shipment of arms that arrived in Sierra Leone in October. The prosecution has relied on the testimony of other witnesses, such as Armed Forces Revolutionary Council leader Samuel Kargbo, to corroborate the story (p. 10458).

If Campbell received a diamond that September evening, the prosecution argues, it is crucial to their case for two reasons. First, it contradicts Taylor's claim that he was never in possession of any diamonds. According to Tracey Gurd, a legal officer monitoring the case for the Open Society Justice Initiative, the prosecution will use this to "cast doubt over Mr. Taylor's credibility as a truthful witness in his own defense."

Second, the prosecution has argued that this story fits into the diamonds-for-weapons timeline, lending credence to the allegations that Taylor sold rough diamonds in the fall of 1997 in exchange for a shipment of arms to Sierra Leone's rebels.

Farrow, who was also in attendance at the 1997 dinner, insists that the diamond exchange occurred. In a declaration to the court, Farrow stated that at breakfast the next morning, Campbell had "an unforgettable story. She told us the [sic] she had been awakened in the night by knocking at her door. She opened the door to find two or three men--I do not recall how many--who presented her with a large diamond which they said was from Charles Taylor." The actress is confident that her recollection of the events of that night is accurate; "you don't forget when a girlfriend tells you that she was given a huge diamond in the middle of the night," Farrow told ABC News.   
 
Taylor and his defense team have offered a different version of events, however. When questioned in court about the incident, Taylor denied that the exchange ever took place, describing the allegations as "total nonsense" (p. 33339).

Taylor's lawyers have also stressed that Campbell herself has publicly denied that she received a diamond. In an interview, the model told ABC News, "I didn't receive a diamond and I'm not going to speak about it." In an interview with Oprah, however, Campbell stated simply: "I don't want to be involved in this man's case--he has done some terrible things and I don't want to put my family in danger." 

The second issue that the defense has emphasized in its submissions to the court is that there is a discrepancy between Farrow's description of the night and the version of events presented by Carole White, Campbell's former agent. According to the defense's May 31 response to the court, Farrow stated that Campbell was given a single, large diamond. White, on the other hand, stated that she witnessed Campbell receive "five to eight gray pebbles, or rough diamonds." 

Furthermore, the defense has argued that even if a diamond exchange between Taylor and Campbell had occurred, there is still no evidence that the diamond was connected to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. "Even though [Campbell's] testimony may help on key elements," confirmed Gurd, "it may not prove that those diamonds were used to pay for weapons." 

Another possible complication, Gurd stated, is the recent testimony of Sierra Leonean rebel leader Issa Sesay. Sesay, who has been convicted by the Special Court for his role in the war, testified on July 7 that it was not Charles Taylor but rather Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi who provided the funds for the October 1997 shipment of weapons. "At that time Mr. Taylor and [rebel leader] Mr. Sankoh had not business," Sesay stated in court. "Mr. Sankoh bought those ammunition purely from the money he had got from the Libyan leader" (p. 43871). 

Yet the prosecution has indicated that Sesay's testimony is not a concern. "We are pleased that Charles Taylor has chosen to rely on Issa Sesay in his defence," Special Court prosecutor Nick Koumjian wrote in an email. "And we look forward to our opportunity to question him."

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Christina Koningisor is a writer based in New Haven.

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