Naomi Campbell Has Become The Poster Child for The Blood Diamonds Trial But Is The Attention Misguided?

August 9, 2010  |  

by Charing Ball

Diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend but in the case of Naomi Campbell, they have become her worst enemy.

The queen of mean, mostly known these days for beating assistants with cell phones, was in court last Friday answering questions before the Special Courts of Sierra Leone as to whether or not she had accepted a blood diamond from Charles Taylor, the infamous former president of Liberia, who is accused of dozens of crimes against humanity in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Campbell’s testimony in the court case, which had started in 2007, has attracted the attention of almost every major – and minor – news outlet from New York Times to Access Hollywood. Some news stations and print media stations have even created live feeds and up-to-minute blog accounts of every single riveting detail of her testimony including what she was wearing and hairstyle choices.

And poor old Naomi, who admits to receiving the “dirty little pebbles” in a late night visit from a couple of Taylor’s associates while a guest of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, told the courts that she had never heard of Liberia before.

Well, I guess prior to Campbell’s appearance, neither had the rest of the world.

Charles Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to January 18, 2002. The Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor is responsible for ordering the murders and mutilation of civilians. These heinous crimes included cutting off their limbs; using women and girls as sex slaves; and abducting children and forcing them to perform forced labor or become fighters during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

It is alleged that Taylor had financially backed the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who seized control of the diamonds mined in Sierra Leone and then smuggled them into his country for the purpose of trading for guns and ammunition, which was then used to allegedly murder and mane opposition.  During the time of the conflict, upwards of 50,000 were killed, thousands of others were maimed and half the population had was displaced.

And yet all media attention has been able to focus on is Naomi, who was only ordered under subpoena to give evidence after another celebrity, Mia Farrow, reported the transaction. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of Campbell, the fact that she and her alleged blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, are at the center of media frenzy has diminished the overall severity of what is ultimately being alleged.

Whether or not she actually received a “blood” conflict diamond is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Campbell is a single, minor witness amongst a long line of folks, who, in my opinion, have a lot to answer for.

First, there was the United Nations and its slow reaction to the conflict, which had been happening for 10 years before it had intervene with unenforceable sanctions and subsequent military intervention.

Then there is the precious minerals industry itself, which has unknowingly – and in many cases knowingly – operated mines in Sierra Leone and other countries where diamonds were being used as war currency. Many of these diamond dealers had removed itself from operations at the time of the conflicts but operated in a manner, which enabled them to purchase from any source legally or illegally.

And what part does the international consumer play in the continuation of the conflict in Sierra Leone and elsewhere?  It may be a hard truth to swallow but it is our own insatiable lust for, what Campbell would call, those little dirty pebbles, which have made America the largest consumer of conflict diamonds according to Global Witness.

And if we are in need of a pseudo celebrity angle, how about Pat “deal with the devil” Robertson.  Taylor testified in his own war crimes trial that the American conservative evangelist was awarded a Liberian gold-mining concession in 1999 and subsequently offered to lobby the Bush administration to support Taylor’s government.

Those are just a few entities you will unlikely hear or read about via the mainstream media as they are not as Hot of a story as say a statuesque, international supermodel with a thing for diamond-wielding midnight visits.

In some respects, I shouldn’t be too dismayed over the media frenzy as our celeb-induced culture dictates that we should pay attention to what our athletes, models, rappers and actors tell us is important. And no doubt that Campbell’s appearance at the trial has pulled the issue of conflict diamonds from obscurity and back onto the main stage, making her the unwilling yet glamorous poster child for conflict war diamonds.

We  must  remember that there are other places like Sierra Leone that are also being exploited for their natural resources.  Places such as the Ivory Coast, where children are being forced to harvest in cocoa fields under abusive conditions, or in the eastern part of the Congo, where coltan mines have been militarized and have further fueled conflict there. Perhaps if Naomi Campbell is photographed drinking hot coco while surfing the internet on her brand new gifted smart phone from some rebel group, we might be forced to pay attention.

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