Naomi Campbell is giving testimony today at a special UN war crimes tribunal investigating former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of 11 counts of war crimes including rape, murder, and dismemberment, and the control of diamonds to fuel a brutal civil war.
The British supermodel, who arrived at the ICC court in The Hague on Thursday morning, was subpoened to testify on whether she received one or more uncut diamonds as a gift from President Taylor after a 1997 dinner hosted by his South African counterpart, Nelson Mandela.
Mr. Taylor has denied using “blood diamonds” to pay for his military activities in the civil wars of Liberia and Sierra Leone, so Campbell’s testimony would be the strongest evidence yet of Taylor's ties to the diamond trade.
Campbell's opening statement
In her opening statement, Campbell told the UN court that a pair of men knocked on her hotel door after the Mandela dinner, and gave her a pouch of “dirty stones," adding, “I guess they were diamonds.” There was reportedly no note or explanation in the pouch.
According to the BBC, Campbell told the court that the next morning she told US actress Mia Farrow, who had also attended the dinner, and her former agent Carol White what had happened, and one of the two said, "That's obviously Charles Taylor." Campbell says she responded, "I guess that was."
Taylor accused for role in wars that killed 120,000
At the time of their meeting, Taylor was himself a rebel leader who had recently been elected president of Liberia, and had yet to unleash the atrocities that characterized the civil wars of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
By 1999, Taylor was accused by the UN of running guns to insurgents in Sierra Leone, and using diamonds to pay for them. The accumulated death toll from the two wars was 120,000, although countless thousands more were maimed by child soldiers as a form of punishment – and a warning to those opposed to Taylor.
Campbell: 'Big inconvenience' to testify
Campbell is a grudging witness in the UN trial.
"I didn't really want to be here. I was made to be here," she told the judge, according to the BBC. "So obviously I'm just like wanting to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a big inconvenience for me."
In the past, she denied receiving a diamond from Taylor, and in May she told US talk show host Oprah Winfrey she didn’t want to testify at the ICC trial because she feared for her life if she did. But a subpoena and the threat of a seven-year jail sentence by the ICC seemed to have changed Campbell’s mind.
Conviction against Taylor could strengthen international courts
A conviction in the case against Taylor could have profound repercussions, and strengthen the hand of international courts in the prosecution of war crimes.
Taylor is the second former president to be tried for war crimes, after former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
Similar charges have also been filed against sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes committed during the ongoing Darfur conflict, and against at least a half dozen unnamed senior Kenyan politicians accused of directing ethnic violence in Kenya after tightly contested elections in December 2007.