Charles Taylor has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, all committed in Sierra Leone. It is alleged that he actively backed the rebel Revolutionary United Front in its armed conflict against the government in Freetown from 1996 to 2002 — enriching himself, in return, through Sierra Leone’s “blood diamonds”.
How did a model end up at the Hague? Campbell attended a who’s-who dinner in South Africa, hosted by Nelson Mandela, back in 1997, the peak of the supermodel craze. She dined with the charity clique: Mia Farrow, Quincy Jones, Jemima Goldsmith, Imran Khan — and Charles Taylor. This is where, it is alleged, Taylor gifted the model uncut diamonds. The ones she now calls “dirty-looking stones”.
But Charles Taylor claims to have no association with the diamonds, not in Sierra Leone, nor in South Africa. Instead he continues to proclaim his innocence in court.
That court, the “Special Court for Sierra Leone”, was set up amid much buzz. It was the first international hybrid court: a blend of both international and domestic Sierra Leonean law, with judges from both The Hague and Sierra Leone. Now it bears another distinction. This is the first international tribunal to be graced by couture from the man who proudly claims to make “too few dresses,” Alaia Azzedine.
Naomi Campbell claims that she was unaware that these diamonds were from Charles Taylor but acknowledges receiving them. Mia Farrow’s testimony — “you don’t forget when a girlfriend tells you she was given a huge diamond in the middle of the night” — also associates Taylor with the diamonds. The presence of high-profile celebrities may be threatening to turn the court into a circus; but the prosecution may have Taylor cornered.
Campbell’s confession may go a long way in that effort. First, there is the question of what Taylor was doing in South Africa during that period. The prosecution asserts that he was in South Africa to buy weapons. Further, according to the tribunal, a shipment of weapons from South Africa to Sierra Leone followed soon after the night Taylor slipped Campbell the uncut diamonds.
But his simple gesture crystallises the challenge of monitoring the diamond industry. How does one monitor something so small?
Sierra Leone has often been used to highlight blood diamonds and conflict. Many believe that, without the sale of diamonds, the war there could not have been funded. The UN duly responded with Resolution 1306 on July 5, 2000, imposing a ban on the direct and indirect import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone. Despite efforts, according to UN figures, conflict diamonds still continue to represent 20 per cent of total annual world diamond trade.
The most proactive move to monitor the production and trade of stones from conflict areas is called the “Kimberley Process”, and was established in 2000 by southern diamond producing countries. Yet, a UN report detailing the situation in Cote d’Ivoire noted that, due to poor control, blood diamonds continue to be mined and enter the diamond market by being routed through legitimate exporters such as Ghana — where they are certified as conflict-free.
Plugging those gaps is a problem, because of the structure of the diamond industry — the “diamond pipeline” model. As diamonds move from the site they are mined to their “production centre”, and then to the individual houses that polish them, space is left for conflict diamonds to seep in. Further the industry so heavily cartelised that it continues to be shrouded in secrecy. The Kimberley Process is supposed to free access to statistics, but production statistics continue to remain private. Further, the Kimberley Process, though growing in scope, requires international assistance and more stringent laws. June saw the government of Zimbabwe break away from the rules of the Kimberley Process certification scheme; Human Rights Watch detailed the export of blood diamonds from the Marange diamond fields there.
Though Naomi Campbell did not walk away with a big rock, she has exposed an obvious crack in the system: how easy it is for stones to change hands. Meanwhile, the model who claims she had never heard of the term “blood diamond” until last week, holidays in a yacht with her billionaire boyfriend — and Leonardo di Caprio, the star of Blood Diamond, loosely based on Charles Taylor’s unfortunate legacy.