Blood diamonds, a sordid bankroller of war

2010-08-05 14:25

Supermodel Naomi Campbell’s testimony today in the war crimes trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor is the latest flash of glamour to shine on the sordid issue of blood diamonds.

Campbell’s testimony on the so-called “blood diamond gift” she allegedly received from Taylor in 1997 has made headlines across the world, bringing fresh attention to Taylor’s three-year-old trial and the larger issue of diamond sales that finance wars and abusive regimes.

Oliver Courtney, a spokesperson for Global Witness, said: “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 anti-blood diamond group said the supermodel’s testimony “draws fresh attention to the problems which still plague the international diamond trade”.

Campbell today told a court in The Hague she had received a gift of “dirty-looking stones” she assumed were from Taylor after a 1997 dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela.

Taylor, Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, is charged with murder, rape and enslavement for his alleged role in the 1991-2001 civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone that claimed some 120 000 lives.

He is accused of receiving illegally mined diamonds in return for arming rebels who enlisted child soldiers and murdered, raped and maimed civilians, cutting off their limbs and carving initials into their bodies.

The conflict was portrayed in the 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Sierra Leone is one of several diamond-rich countries whose natural wealth has been used to finance bloody wars and gruesome human rights abuses in recent years.

The list also includes Angola, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all of which have suffered wars fuelled partly by money earned on diamond sales.

Human rights activists have also accused Guinea, Venezuela, DRC and Zimbabwe of profiting from the sale of diamonds linked to human rights abuses.

The UN in 2000 voted to create an international certification scheme to stop the trade in diamonds used to finance violence.
Launched in 2002, the Kimberley Process monitors member countries and requires international shipments of rough diamonds to be accompanied by a certificate guaranteeing they are “conflict-free”.

But while activists have praised the scheme for reducing the number of conflict diamonds on the global market, they say problems remain.

Global Witness used Campbell’s high-profile testimony today as a platform to appeal for Kimberley Process monitors to crack down on Zimbabwe, where the watchdog documented gross military abuses against civilians by soldiers guarding the Marange diamond fields.

Global Witness said: “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 benefiting from its country’s natural resources.”

Monitors had in January halted the sale of stones from Marange, one of the largest diamond finds in history, but last month agreed to allow Zimbabwe to resume limited sales.

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