Why Naomi Campbell matters to Charles Taylor’s war crimes trial

The former Liberian president is being tried on 11 counts of war crimes, including charges of murder, rape and sexual slavery, in a trial that has already lasted two years.

Mr Taylor, 62, is accused by prosecutors of trading in “blood diamonds” to fund a brutal and bloody war carried out by rebels in Liberia’s neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Critical to their case is the allegation that his staff gave the supermodel gems as a present after they met at a star studded gala banquet hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Naomi Campbell gives evidence at the Charles Taylor War Crimes trial in the Hague

Naomi Campbell gives evidence at the Charles Taylor War Crimes trial in the Hague

Testimony from Miss Campbell, Mia Farrow and Carole White, the model’s former agent of 17 years standing – all present at the dinner – has provided headlines for a case that has often struggled to grab the world’s attention.

The value of diamonds looted by Sierra Leone’s rebels and allegedly traded for weapons with Mr Taylor, a warlord and then president in neighbouring Liberia, could have been as high as £950 million.

For most of the 11 year period of the conflict in Sierra Leone, the country’s diamond producing zones, which account for two per cent of the world’s production, were in control of the Revolutionary United Front, the brutal insurgents supported by Mr Taylor.

The trade in 1999, at the height of the conflict, was estimated by the World Bank potentially to have been worth $138 million a year.

Instead of helping Sierra Leone, the world’s poorest country, the diamonds were siphoned off to arm and supply the rebels that left 120,000 people dead and millions homeless.

The popular Hollywood film, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, dramatised the role of the gemstone in Sierra Leone’s civil war, which took place between 1996 and 2002.

Blood or conflict diamonds are the name for gems mined illegally, and often under violent coercion, in African warzones.

The diamonds are then used to fund warlords or insurgents trying to take over a country. The trade in conflict diamonds has been blamed for fuelling conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire and the Congo.

Following the Sierra Leone war, the UN set up the Kimberley Process to regulate the trade in uncut or rough diamonds. The new rules are implemented in 75 countries, including all European nations, which account for 99.8 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds.

The Antwerp Diamond Exchange has estimated that blood diamonds – from across Africa – accounted for 15 per cent of market trade in 1990s. Today illegal diamonds are thought to be under one per cent of trade.

The “dirty pebbles” that Naomi Campbell admitted to being given would be difficult to value, explained David Law, a Knightsbridge jewellery designer and expert in gems.

“It would be very difficult to put a value on them, even if you had them, because you don’t know the value until one is polished and you can see the quality of the diamond,” he said.

“Rough diamonds, rocks, are a risk.”

Mr Law explained that after the UN rules and post-September 11 money laundering laws it would be “very unusual and difficult” for an individual, even a supermodel, to sell uncut diamonds.

“You wouldn’t see rocks on the open market. It is too closed off,” he said.

Miss Campbell’s gems have been handed over to the authorities in South Africa after she gave them to a children’s charity organiser, a country where uncertified uncut stones have long been illegal to protect the De Beers diamond cartel.

Uncut stones or blood diamonds are never seen on the open or legal market, according to London diamond traders.

“I have never heard of a jeweller buying uncut stones in London. In the diamond cutting centres the rules are followed,” said Alex Arbisman of Star Jewellers.

“For a company in Hatton garden not to go by the rules would be very risky, very silly and I like to think people on our street are moral as well.”

source: telegraph.co.uk

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