Naomi Campbell to testify over "blood diamonds"

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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.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established in 2003 by various countries, diamond industry representatives and rights groups, after accusations that diamonds had financed several conflicts in Africa, including the civil war in Sierra Leone.

However, critics say that the process is toothless and needs to be reformed. They are critical of a June report by Abbey Chikane, a South African monitor in the Kimberley Process, who wrote that “Zimbabwe has satisfied minimum requirements of the KPCS for the trade in rough diamonds.”

Nadim Kara of Partnership Africa Canada, which works to stop the trade in conflict diamonds, said that the new Kimberley Process plan for Zimbabwe “is far from perfect, and it will take considerable efforts by all parties…to make it work.”

Ian Smillie, an architect of the Kimberley Process who resigned last year in frustration over its ineffectiveness, said that it would have been better to “verify first and then agree” when it comes to Zimbabwe. But he notes that Zimbabwe has agreed to some tough new procedures, including a full review under the process, a forensic audit of the country’s existing diamond stockpile, and an NGO representative to accompany Chikane, the Kimberley Process monitor, on his next visits.

Zimbabwe activist Farai Maguwu, who was detained and accused of providing false information about the diamond trade after meeting with Chikane, has been freed on bail under the deal.

Zimbabwe’s embattled coalition government desperately needs revenue to rebuild its shattered country, where there is often not enough money to pay teachers or purchase medical supplies for public hospitals.

The Movement for Democratic Change party, formerly in opposition and now a partner to President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, has said that the government plans to nationalize the Marange diamond fields, which could provide a badly needed windfall to the country.

A report released last month by Partnership Africa Canada documents how Zimbabwe’s inner cadre of political and military elites loyal to Mugabe is reaping huge profits from control over the Marange fields.

“While some of this money is lining individual pockets, there have been several reports of military commanders personally securing diamonds-for-guns deals with Chinese officials,” the report says.
According to the report, the weapons might be used in the power struggle for control of the ZANU-PF party after Mugabe dies, and “are almost certain to be used to carry out more abuses in [Marange], and intimidate voters in any future election.

“The military’s role using diamonds as a barter good for weapons brings a sense of urgency to this situation, offering a disturbing echo of how diamonds financed arms purchases that fuelled the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” it says.

Smillie said that while the Taylor trial has been going on for more than two years, it has not attracted much press coverage recently.

“Campbell’s appearance — if she does actually appear — will remind people about the trial and its importance,” he said.

“The unregulated trade in diamonds through the 1990s led to the deaths from direct and indirect causes of millions of people," said Smillie. "The carnage was enormous and the effects will last for a long time. Diamonds didn’t cause the wars, but they fuelled them. And the Kimberley Process, which is trying to regulate diamonds, is stumbling badly.”

This GlobalPost video shows the connection between the ongoing war in eastern Congo and the mining of diamonds and other minerals.