Entering it’s third year, the International Tribunal for Sierra Leone trial of Charles Taylor on charges of crimes against humanity took an odd twist. One of the unlikely contentions of Taylor’s defense, and one the prosecutors believed they could exploit, was that he had testified unequivocally that he had NEVER had uncut diamonds in his possession. If that could be shown to be false, there would be ample reasons to question his credibility on a host of other contentions. Based on information from the actress Mia Farrow, international supermodel Naomi Campbell was asked to testify about uncut ‘blood diamonds’ she had received from Taylor in South Africa in 1997. To most everyone’s surprise, she declined to testify. The tribunal issued a subpoena that had the force of law behind it, so, unwilling to face a potential jail sentence, Campbell relented and agreed to testify.
Now here’s where it gets weird. Her testimony was that two men came to her hotel room late at night, awakening her, and without identifying themselves or who they might have been representing, gave her a pouch containing several “small, dirty-looking stones”. This is odd in that she had apparently linked the stones to Charles Taylor in earlier conversations with Mia Farrow and her own agent.
Now this may come as a shock, but I have never been a supermodel. But apparently it is not uncommon for them to receive gifts all the time, from all manner of people, and to get a bag of rocks from a couple strangers in the middle of the night was not an event that might inspire any real curiosity whatsoever. She gave the stones to Jeremy Ratcliffe, the head of Mandela’s charity, likely because she knew they were diamonds and to take them out of the country would make her a smuggler. In an interesting twist, even all these years later he still had the stones and has turned them over to South African police for analysis.
There can be little doubt that Taylor is responsible for horrible atrocities in at least two nations over more than a decade of serial coups, insurgencies, civil wars and assorted mayhem and bloodletting. For that matter, it is quite well-known that he used the trade in conflict diamonds to fund his guerrilla armies and purchase the arms they used. The thing I’m most curious about is Naomi Campbell’s justification for refusing to identify him as the source of the diamonds in South Africa. One might assume it is based on fear of retaliation, but you don’t hear a lot about international assassination teams dispatched by small-bore African despots. The other possible explanations for her unwillingness to provide complete testimony are 1.) that she actually admires him – in Liberia, despite all the years of killing, maiming, torture and imprisonment, he is very well loved, admired and respected – and 2.) She just doesn’t care about the outcome of the trial and is trying to get by with the minimum involvement and participation she can, with the intention of returning to her wealthy, pampered existence without troubling herself with the problems of the everyday world.
In any case, Charles Taylor is not going free anytime soon. One just wishes that the Supermodel would have been more willing to make a small effort to ensure some justice for the victims of the Warlord.