The role of natural resources in funding conflict will be highlighted by the testimony of supermodel Naomi Campbell at the trial of former warlord and President of Liberia Charles Taylor in the Hague tomorrow (August 5), said campaign group Global Witness. Taylor is charged with war crimes committed in Sierra Leone including murder, rape and use of child soldiers, but has yet to face justice for crimes committed in neighbouring Liberia. The event offers a valuable reminder of the importance of pursuing justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Campbell has been called to testify by the prosecution, having allegedly accepted a diamond as a gift from Taylor in 1997. There is no suggestion that Campbell knew the possible origin of the diamond. Global Witness was among the first to expose how the warlord Taylor used funds from the sales of illegal diamonds and timber to pay for his brutal campaign in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which saw hundreds of thousands killed and many more assaulted, raped, displaced and tortured.
“Ms Campbell's testimony reminds us of the damage that can be done by power-hungry individuals who illegally exploit their country's natural resource wealth to wage campaigns of violence and brutality against civilians. The Taylor trial is an important moment in the history of international justice, when the survivors of his regime may finally see some reparation,” said Oliver Courtney, Global Witness spokesperson.
Global Witness investigations into civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia first uncovered the role of diamonds in funding conflict, and the organisation was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Its campaigning triggered a concerted international effort to address the issue, resulting in the founding of the government-led Kimberley Process (KP) rough diamond certification scheme in 2003. This international system brings together national governments, civil society and the diamond industry in an attempt to eradicate blood diamonds from the international trade.
Ms Campbell's testimony is timely because it draws fresh attention to the problems which still plague the international diamond trade, and the weaknesses they have exposed in the functioning of the Kimberley Process. Three years ago, one of the largest diamond finds in history was uncovered in eastern Zimbabwe’s Marange area. This triggered a diamond rush by destitute citizens, swiftly followed by a savage government crackdown, as Zimbabwe’s military-political elite sought to gain control of the country’s new-found diamond wealth.
Once again, diamond wealth is propping up a system of violence, abuse and illicit activity with horrendous consequences for a civilian population that should be benefitting from its country’s natural resources. Global Witness has repeatedly called for the Kimberley Process to take decisive action on the case of Zimbabwe – but so far the KP has not shown the political will necessary to address the crisis in the country’s diamond sector seriously.
“Global Witness first highlighted the scourge of blood diamonds 12 years ago, and yet the trade is still funding violence and abuse,” said Courtney. “This is a damning indictment of the promises made by KP member governments and the diamond industry to stamp out blood diamonds once and for all.”