Saturday 7 August 2010

'Blood Diamonds' are not Naomi's best friend

What a bizarre situation we had this week, when one of the world's most famous supermodels turns up to give evidence at an international war crimes court.

Naomi Campbell gave evidence on Thursday as a prosecution witness in a case against former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

Taylor is accused of 11 charges of war crimes, which include murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Much of this relates to a civil war which took place in the neighbouring West African country of Sierra Leone.

I watched Campbell giving evidence on Sky News thinking 'Does she really need to be there?' But considering her giving evidence was the biggest news story of the day, this has raised the profile of a case that's been going on since 2007. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I knew nothing about it.

Did the prosecutors really need to hear evidence from Campbell to make their case stronger? She certainly made it clear she didn't want to be there.

They'd argue yes, in that by proving Campbell received diamonds from the former president, he was directly linked to the blood diamond trade.

The allegation is that he received these 'blood diamonds' from rebel forces fighting in Sierra Leone who helped finance their conflict by mining the diamonds. Taylor then paid for the diamonds with weapons given to the rebels.

Before this week I only knew two things about Liberia. Firstly the African football legend George Weah came from Liberia, and secondly it was a country set up and run by freed African American slaves in the early 19th Century. Not much I know, but probably more than most people.

As for so called 'blood diamonds' until Kanye West came along with his track 'Diamonds Are Forever' which highlighted the mining of diamonds in Sierra Leone I'd never heard the term.

So it looks like without one of Hip Hop's biggest stars, and a supermodel giving evidence at a war crimes court, I wouldn't know anything about this story or issue.

I'm not suggesting prosecutors used Campbell specifically to raise the profile of this case, but having one of the biggest names in fashion and other celebs like actress Mia Farrow giving evidence has certainly helped bring this story to many people's attention.

I know we're used to celebrities being involved in charity work and endorsing international causes and campaigns, but this is a new twist in the power of celebrity culture.

Maybe it's also a lesson for some of the world's dictators and corrupt leaders. If they court the world of celebrity it may come back to haunt them in ways they never imagined.

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