Naomi Campbell, Blood Diamonds, and the Big Picture

Crossposted from Huffington Post

Diamonds may prove not to be a girl’s best friend later this month as the model Naomi Campbell travels to the The Hague to testify at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Instead, she will find herself in the hot seat in one of the court’s most closely watched cases.

In 1997, Ms. Campbell allegedly received a diamond from Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia and current defendant in a trial accusing him of crimes against humanity and other serious offenses across the border in Sierra Leone during its civil war. Taylor allegedly armed Sierra Leonean rebels with weapons used in brutal attacks against civilians in exchange for diamonds mined in that atrocities-ridden country. Prosecutors seek Ms. Campbell’s testimony, as well as testimony from actress Mia Farrow, to help establish the timing of Taylor’s possession of Sierra Leonean diamonds.

Ms. Campbell’s appearance at the tribunal in The Hague is noteworthy for more than her celebrity. The spotlight her appearance shines on the structure supporting the atrocities in Sierra Leone is useful far beyond the Taylor trial. Too often, governments and people seeking an end to mass atrocities focus their attention only on the perpetrators of those crimes. Those who commit the crimes certainly deserve that attention — but they aren’t alone. Also deserving of attention and pressure are those governments, commercial entities, and people who enable the commission of those crimes, whether through helping to fund, arm, or otherwise support the perpetrators. Pressure on these actors, on whom the perpetrators depend for critical resources, is an underused tool that could change the dynamics of these horrific human rights abuses.

When Naomi Campbell takes the stand later this month, let’s not lose sight of the real story: those who commit mass atrocities are sustained by the support of third parties, and these enablers, too, should be held to account.


Published on July 15, 2010


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