A Diamond for Miss Campbell
Charles Taylor was convicted recently by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague of indirect involvement in war crimes committed in the West African country. The conviction would seem to give substance to testimonies that Taylor dealt in blood diamonds and offered some as gift to supermodel Naomi Campbell. In the violent campaign by rebels between 1991 and 2002 to topple the government of Sierra Leone, rough diamonds were said to have been used to procure munitions for the RUF rebels. According to news reports, the rebels killed, maimed and raped everything on their path. Charles Taylor, a warlord elected president in neighbouring Liberia, was widely believed to have been in alliance with Foday Sankoh the RUF leader, to negotiate arm deals with diamonds — rough and uncut — illegally mined from the rebel controlled diamond rich region of Sierra Leone. The conflict was intense, the atrocities were widespread and Charles Taylor was indicted since 2003 on several charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violation of international humanitarian law. He pleaded not guilty at the trial that lasted from 2008 to 2011, claiming he never handled rough diamonds. Witnesses gave contrary testimonies, however, that he offered rough diamonds in gift to Naomi Campbell in 1997 during a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. His trip then was allegedly linked to an arm shipment from South Africa to the RUF rebels in October 1997.
It was in this context that Naomi Campbell’s testimony had been very crucial to the prosecutors’ case. Her confirmation of a gift of rough diamonds from the former warlord president would contradict Taylor’s claim and strengthen the charges against him. But the dilemma of Miss Campbell became something of a public drama. She had turned and twisted, floundered and fidgeted in an attempt to wriggle out of a testimony against Charles Taylor until ultimately subpoenaed by the court. On Oprah Winfrey Show before her testimony, she expressed concern for the safety of her family emphasizing her not wanting anything to do with a supposedly dangerous man. Anyone could draw allusion to himself from her story. No right minded person would want to expose self or family to danger, but this would often come as a consequence of a past action the full details of which we might no longer remember. Somewhere in the hazy hustlings of yester-moments something was sown that must be harvested in the ripeness of time. A mere seed of corn could feed a big family; a small negligible axe could fell a big tree.
In her eventual testimony Naomi Campbell had declared that coming to The Hague was a ‘major inconvenience’ for her. Many commentators found the remark unfortunate in view of the concerted efforts being made by all people of goodwill to ensure that the war atrocities would not go unpunished. In the face of the general indignation to her comment, she attempted a damage control in a reported interview, saying it was only a reference to the fact that she had ‘nothing to gain’ in the whole process. This again led to the commentary that she was only an ego-centric seeker of gain with no genuine love of people at heart. In all, it would appear as if her every effort to correct a perceived error only ended up compounding it. A garment of lie, it is said, can never be completely protective; hardly is it drawn to cover the head does it leave the feet exposed, and when the feet are covered the flanks are uncovered. There is just no refuge under falsehood, and truth alone is the armour.
Miss Campbell acknowledged that she did receive some “dirty looking stones”, but claimed not to know where they came from. The claim was, however, contradicted by two witnesses, Mia Farrow and Carole White, who testified that Campbell had told them the stones came from Charles Taylor. One of the witnesses went on to say that Mandela’s wife, Gracha Machel, had not seemed happy at the appearance of Charles Taylor as a surprise guest at the fateful dinner. The gracious lady’s reaction might have been an intuitive premonition of what was to come. Naomi Campbell had given the stones to the director of Mandela Children’s Foundation, Jeremy Ractliffe, who in simply putting them away was 13 years later forced to resign his position at the Foundation and also faced a probable prosecution for illegal possession of unaccounted precious stones. Campbell herself was constrained to testify, incurring a certain global scrutiny she would rather much do without. It all came down to a few “dirty looking stones” offered and accepted in the murky hour of a treacherous night.
All the troubles and traumata are the sort of things that come to alert us all to the necessary watchfulness we must exercise constantly to sanely meander our wits in the complexity of daily strives and safely make our way in the simplicity of daily life. We will sometimes fall short of scruples as no man is infallible. But there is a diamond of inestimable value in the admonition to waken our intuition in order that circumstances may not lure us into circumventing our own integrity; the glitters of gifts and the pleasures of presents must never blind us to the dirty clutching hands conveying them…
»A Diamond for Miss Campbell
- Ex-Liberia President Charles Taylor guilty in ‘watershed’ war-crimes case (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- Charles Taylor awaits Sierra Leone atrocities judgement – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)
- Charles Taylor: Lay preacher and feared warlord (edition.cnn.com)
- Charles Taylor war crimes trial – live coverage of the verdict (guardian.co.uk)
- UN court to sentence Charles Taylor on Wednesday (vanguardngr.com)
- Charles Taylor convicted in ‘blood diamond’ and child soldier trial (thejournal.ie)
- Charles Taylor verdict ends decade-long hunt for justice (itv.com)
- Charles Taylor convicted of aiding war crimes (independent.co.uk)
- Verdict looms in war-crimes case (cnn.com)
- Naomi Campbell and blood diamonds: key moments of the Charles Taylor trial (thejournal.ie)