What Does Naomi Campbell Have to Do With Blood Diamonds and a Disgraced African Dictator?

The backstory behind her testimony in the Hague

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Supermodel Naomi Campbell is at the center of a riveting trial involving notorious ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor. Earlier today, she told a war crimes tribunal that she received a few "dirty-looking" stones from the former leader. Prosecutors want to user her testimony to undercut Taylor's long-held claim that he was never involved in the diamond trade. Here's why Campbell's reluctant participation in this case matters:

  • What Taylor Is Charged For  "The war crimes charges against him stem from the widespread murder, rape and mutilation that occurred during the civil war in Sierra Leone" CNN explains. "It was fought largely by teenagers who were forced to kill, given addictive drugs to provoke violent behavior, and often instructed to rape and plunder... Prosecutors are trying to prove that Taylor handled uncut diamonds...which fueled a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone when Taylor was president of neighboring Liberia."
  • Why Campbell's Testimony Is Important for the Prosecution  The Atlantic's Christina Koningisor explains:
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.
  • What Did Campbell Do With the Diamonds?  Jeff Neumann at Gawker is suspicious: "Campbell says she gave the diamonds to Jeremy Ratcliffe of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, but the group said in a letter presented by Taylor's defense team that it 'never received a diamond or diamonds from Ms Campbell or from anyone else. It would have been improper and illegal to have done so.' Campbell first denied receiving the diamonds to ABC News in April, then told Oprah she didn't want to talk about it out of fear for her life."
  • Campbell's Involvement Is Quite Good for Spreading Awareness, notes Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First: "Though the British supermodel may not have intended to bring the issue of genocide's supply chain into the spotlight, if leaders can begin to address the underlying issues her testimony raises, she may help ensure that The Hague won't have to hold a future trial for genocide in southern Sudan."
  • She's Not the Brightest Jewel in the Box, writes Melissa Whitworth at The Telegraph: "In the supermodel handbook, there should be an entire chapter warning against accepting gifts from powerful strangers. And perhaps a highlighted section on the appropriate way to address an African dictator when he offers you a fistful of 'dirty rocks.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.