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Naomi Campbell to testify over "blood diamonds"

Supermodel to give evidence in trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

Naomi Campbell
Naomi Campbell has been called to testify at the International Criminal Court trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. She will be asked about reports that Taylor gave her a rough diamond. Here Campbell is at a the Cannes film festival in May, 2010 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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Naomi Campbell's date to testify at the International Criminal Court has been postponed until Aug. 5.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Naomi Campbell has been to court amid a media storm before: on charges of assaulting her personal assistant with a telephone while in a fit of rage, and then for after allegedly hitting her housekeeper with a jewel-encrusted mobile phone, and more recently for kicking and spitting at airport police officers in a tantrum over missing luggage.

But when the British supermodel takes the stand at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on the morning of July 29, she will bring her celebrity to an issue far beyond the usual tabloid fodder: the dark, disturbing world of “blood diamonds,” a subject that is sparking global controversy again, not just in its original battlegrounds in Liberia and Sierra Leone but also now in the southern African country of Zimbabwe.

Groups like Global Witness have campaigned against "conflict diamonds," charging that profits from the gemstones have funded deadly African wars. The Leonardo DiCaprio film "Blood Diamond" helped the issue reach a wide international audience.

Campbell has been subpoenaed to appear in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who International Criminal Court prosecutors allege traded diamonds mined in neighboring Sierra Leone for weapons that fuelled rebels in that country’s 1991-2002 civil war, one of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges that include murder, rape, enslavement, pillaging, and conscripting child soldiers.

Campbell is being called to testify about whether Taylor gave her a rough diamond after a 1997 celebrity dinner in South Africa hosted by Nelson Mandela. Actress turned Africa campaigner Mia Farrow, who was also at the event, said that Campbell had described receiving a “huge diamond” from Taylor.

“You don’t forget when a girlfriend tells you she was given a huge diamond in the middle of the night,” Farrow told ABC News.

Campbell’s former agent also recalls the incident and has said she would be willing to testify. But Campbell herself has been reluctant to take the stand, angrily denying that she had received a diamond and storming out of an interview.

Now she must attend the Taylor trial — or else “show good cause why you cannot comply with this subpoena,” according to the court order, under penalty of seven years in jail. Prosecutors in the case against Taylor want Campbell to testify in the hope that it will help prove that he brought raw diamonds looted from mines in Sierra Leone to South Africa to trade them for weapons on behalf of rebels.

Nearly a decade after the end of the Sierra Leone war, blood diamonds remain a controversial and hotly debated topic.

Last week Zimbabwe was given permission to resume limited exports of its diamonds under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the body that certifies trade in diamonds in a bid to ensure that blood diamonds are not trafficked. The new deal will allow Zimbabwe to sell some stockpiled diamonds and could allow it to resume full exports in September if conditions are met.

Exports from the Marange diamond fields, in eastern Zimbabwe, were suspended in November under the Kimberley Process, in response to reports of violence and human rights abuses by government security forces.

Diamonds were discovered at the Marange fields in 2006, and in late 2008 the military took control of the area using brutal tactics, killing at least 200 civilians. An estimated $400 million worth of diamonds in 2007 alone were smuggled from the Marange fields.

A Human Rights Watch report in June documented forced labor, beatings and the planned forced relocation of families from the area, where soldiers are running informal diamond syndicates, often smuggling the stones over the border to Mozambique for sale.