News / Africa

Supermodel Appears at Charles Taylor War Crimes Trial

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Supermodel Naomi Campbell has testified in the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.  She told the court she received "dirty looking stones" after a dinner with Mr. Taylor in 1997, but she said they had not been given to her by the former president himself, and she could not be sure if the stones were diamonds.  

Naomi Campbell was called to The Hague to answer questions about an evening in South Africa 13 years ago.  Campbell's former agent Carole White and actress Mia Farrow have said Campbell was given an uncut diamond by Charles Taylor after a dinner party hosted by Nelson Mandela.

Her version of events

In court, Campbell recounted her version of what happened.

"When I was sleeping I heard a knock at my door, and I opened my door and two men were there and gave me a pouch and said, 'A gift for you.'" Campbell said.

She told the court she did not open the pouch until the next morning.  When she looked inside, she found what she described as a few "small dirty looking stones."

The prosecutor asked Campbell if she knew who the gift was from.

"No.  The next morning at breakfast I told Ms. Farrow and Ms. White what had happened, and one of the two said, 'Well that's obviously Charles Taylor.'  And I just said, 'Yeah, I guess it was correct,'" she said.

Campbell said she gave the stones to a friend who was then director of Nelson Mandela's children's charity. The friend, Jeremy Ractliffe, said Friday he has handed over the diamonds to South African police. In a statement, he said he had kept the stones since Campbell gave them to him in 1997.

Why she tried to avoid testifying

Campbell is one of the world's highest paid models.  She fought to avoid testifying because she said she was concerned about the safety of her family.

But the prosecution had hoped her evidence would show that Mr. Taylor received so called "blood diamonds" from rebels in Sierra Leone during the country's decade-long civil war.

Prosecutors say Mr. Taylor - then president of West African Liberia - exchanged the diamonds for weapons, which he smuggled into Sierra Leone.

He is accused of arming and commanding rebels who raped, murdered, and mutilated thousands of civilians.

Why her testimony was important

Elly Harrowell is from the natural resources watchdog Global Witness.  She says Naomi Campbell's appearance at the trial is important.

"I think in such an important trial, it's very important that every piece of evidence is considered.  I also wonder whether if it's a good way of focusing the world's attention on the issue of blood diamonds and on this very important trial by getting such a high-profile figure involved with it," she said.

She says the media attention given to Campbell's testimony is a boon for the fight against conflict diamonds.

"I think it's very important to bring to people's attention that the issue of blood diamonds is a very important one; it's something that is still going on.  We have got cases of conflict diamonds in Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa and also in Zimbabwe where hundreds of people were murdered in the Marange diamond fields recently," said Harrowell.

What's next?

Campbell's testimony is now done, but her part in the former president's trial is not over.  Carole White and Mia Farrow, who each have their own account of that evening 13 years ago, are due to appear in court next week.

Charles Taylor faces 11 war crimes charges, including for murder, rape, and recruiting child soldiers.  He says he is innocent on all counts.  

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