Taylor on Trial

WARNING: Sensitive material about the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Charles Taylor on trial in the Hague

Indicted on 3 March 2003, at the age of 55, for 17 counts of crimes (later amended to 11) against humanity and war crimes, Liberia’s former leader Charles Taylor’s trial has attracted new international attention – particularly in light of the latest testimonies in this case.

Naomi Campbell’s upcoming testimony has made headlines across Africa. It is alleged that 13 years ago at a charity dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, Mr. Taylor gave Ms. Campbell blood diamonds.

Actress Mia Farrow announced earlier this year that Ms. Campbell had received diamonds from Mr. Taylor; she also says that Ms. Campbell knew they were from the former leader, and boasted about them at breakfast the morning after the dinner.

Blood diamonds

Ms. Campbell has claimed, in her testimony, that she received ‘dirty-looking’ diamonds but that she did not know who they were from. When questioned by ABC News, Ms. Campbell stormed out of the room and hit the camera.

She refuses to speak of the diamonds or the ongoing trial.

In July, Ms. Campbell was summoned by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone; she initially refusing to attend (which is punishable by up to seven years in jail) and was then subpoenaed. Ms. Campbell made her first appearance in this court earlier this month.

She alleges that she had no knowledge of the origins of the stones nor of who gave her the gift; she just accepted it in good faith. Ms. Campbell also says that she did not know of the term ‘blood diamond’ at the time of the dinner; and that she donated the stones to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

The court then checked with the Fund, who said they had “never received a diamond or diamonds from Ms. Campbell or from anyone else. It would have been improper and illegal to have done so.”

Tension is mounting in Africa and the Hague; with all parties changing their minds at the drop of a hat, public opinion is easily swayed by rumour and hearsay.

Militia in the streets of Monrovia during the civil war

The BBC’s Liberian correspondent reports from the streets of the capital Monrovia; Jonathan Paye-Layleh spoke to locals at a newsagent.

Academic and commentator Clarence Farley observed: “The witnesses were selected to contradict Taylor’s claims of not offering diamonds to the rebels; but unfortunately they failed to do so.”

Brenda Hollis, part of the prosecution in the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, expects that these testimonies could be crucial in determining the outcome of this trial.

Testimonies in cases such as these can force the hand of justice; in March 2008, Joseph ‘Zigzag’ Marzah, a key witness, revealed much about Taylor’s operations during the war in Sierra Leone. He testified that Mr. Taylor ordered many human sacrifices; particularly those of his opponents.

Soldier in Mr. Taylor's militia

“We executed everybody – babies, women, old men. There were so many executions. I can’t remember them all,” Marzah told the court.

He even had allies he suspected of betrayal, murdered. Mr. Marzah also testified that Mr. Taylor forced his soldiers to eat their enemies, in order to scare away opposition. He alleges that UN personnel were killed and eaten on the battlefield.

One such execution was a guerrilla commander who went by the name of Superman. Mr. Taylor ordered his execution and insisted his severed hand be brought as proof of Superman’s death. The soldiers ordered to eat him were paid $200 each; Mr. Taylor claimed this was ‘cigarette money’, Al Jazeera reports.

The prosecution says Mr. Marzah is a very important witness, who has “inside knowledge of the former Liberian president’s operations in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, where he is accused of responsibility for the widespread murder, rape and amputations committed by soldiers loyal to him”, CNN reported at the time of his testimony.

Should Ms. Campbell’s testimony prove to be as crucial to the trial as Mr. Marzah’s two years ago, we could see a very interesting turn of events. Selling and dealing with blood diamonds are very serious allegations – this trial will continue to bring media attention to Mr. Taylor’s crimes.

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