International Criminal Justice gets ‘Sexy’ – A Supermodel/Diva at a War Crimes Trial

Noami Campbell Special Court for Sierra Leone

Naomi Campbell will appear to testify at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (Photo: Jesse Gross)

International criminal justice just got a bit ‘sexier’. British supermodel Naomi Campbell has agreed to testify at the trial of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, who is on trial in Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A few weeks ago, actress Mia Farrow, who now spends much of her time advocating for action in Darfur, declared that Campbell had told her an “unforgettable story”. According to Farrow, during a charity dinner in South Africa, hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997, Taylor gave Campbell a ‘blood diamond’.

Some might wonder why it matters that Campbell testify at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) – how much could a dinnertime gift of a diamond prove about the allegations against Taylor?

There appear to be two likely reasons for the Court’s decision to demand Campbell’s testimony – one legal and the other not so much.

Prosecutors at the SCSL have been attempting to prove a direct link between and Charles and the use of so-called ‘blood diamonds‘, diamonds mined in war zones and used to fuel conflict. Taylor himself has steadfastly denied owning or trading blood diamonds. If it can be established, with the testimony of Campbell, her former agent and Farrow, that Taylor in fact had blood diamonds at his disposal, his case would be vastly undermined.

The second possible reason for her summoning is that Campbell can bring the Court, and the case of Taylor, a higher profile. As law professor Julian Ku writes, the Court’s demand to bring Campbell to testify at Taylor’s trial “sounds like a bit of a publicity stunt by prosecutors at the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone, but it could very well work…I just don’t see how her testimony could be very important unless he told her about the source of the diamond.”

Campbell’s dramatic, and unnecessarily violent, response (see below) to questions about her relationship, her comments on Oprah regarding her initial refusal to testify, and the subsequent summoning by the Court have brought some spotlight on a Court which struggles to maintain an international profile and works on the basis of a shoe-string budget. I recently had the opportunity to attend some of Taylor’s trial and spoke with one of its officials, who noted that the Court is in a constant struggle to retain sufficient funding to run the trial.

Campbell’s less than classy reaction to questions about receiving a ‘blood diamond’ from Charles Taylor in 1997:

At the Court itself, the prosecution and defense will likely be divided along the reasoning above. Taylor’s defense will surely see this as a desperate ploy to gain international attention. Indeed, the defense team has declared that “Naomi Campbell’s only utility would be to bring unwarranted media attention to the proceedings, it cannot be said that her testimony is necessary to try the case fairly.” Notably, the defense is also vehemently against bringing in more witnesses given that the prosecution closed its case in February 2009. The prosecution, on the other hand, will hold steadfast in its belief that Campbell’s testimony is vital in establishing Taylor’s use of blood diamonds. The reality is surely a bit of both.

Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra LeoneCampbell certainly isn’t sensitive to the issues at hand. On the widely watched Oprah she declared that “I don’t want to be involved in this man’s case—he has done some terrible things and I don’t want to put my family in danger.” This was a remarkably ignorant and selfish comment. Campbell is an independently wealthy woman and a citizen of Britain who can afford protection. After testifying she can return to her lavish lifestyle. Yet witnesses at the Court, many of whom are victims or survivors of the conflict in Sierra Leone, don’t have such benefits. Indeed, many feel unable to attend the Court out of fear of repercussions, while others testify on the condition that their identity to be concealed.

It will be interesting to see what sort of attention Campbell receives at the trial. For the Court’s prosecution, it seems like a win-win. The media attention has been widespread and is unlikely to stop any time soon. There likely won’t be an empty seat in the fishbowl of a courtroom when Campbell testifies. Further, the three witnesses are likely to bolster the prosecution’s case against Taylor. As for Campbell, many eyes will be looking for signs of misbehaviour. This time, however, she won’t be able to punch her questioner.

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About Mark Kersten

Mark is a researcher, consultant and teacher based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Canada. His research focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution. Specifically, Mark's work examines the politics of the International Criminal Court and the effects of its interventions on peace, justice and conflict processes.
This entry was posted in Sierra Leone, Special Court for SIerra Leone (SCSL). Bookmark the permalink.

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