A Bloody Shame

140 95 Rapaport News

RAPAPORT… Blood diamonds hit the headlines again this week, but shifting the attention away from Zimbabwe, even as the first batch of goods from the controversial Marange mine was sold in Harare on Wednesday. Instead the world was captured by the testimonies of supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow in the war crimes trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Taylor, in case you’ve forgotten, is charged with supplying weapons to rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds, fueling the conflict there. He is being charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity — including: terrorism, murder, violence, rape, sexual slavery, outrage on personal dignity, cruel treatment, other inhumane acts, use of child soldiers, enslavement, and pillage.

So after three years, the case has gotten a higher profile, with the introduction of celebrity witnesses Campbell and Farrow. The prosecution was hoping to forge a direct link between Taylor and blood diamonds based on Farrow saying that Campbell allegedly told her that she had received a “huge” diamond from the African leader. The incident occurred during a visit to South Africa in 1997 where all three were attending a charity event for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

It turns out that Campbell, according to her testimony, was indeed woken in the middle of the night and given a package by men but she claims not to have known it was from Taylor. Farrow subsequently refuted that she did in fact acknowledge that the gift was from the Liberian leader.

Either way, the prosecution appears not to have achieved what it set out to. In the words of Taylor’s defense lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, they “scored a spectacular own goal,” in the whole affair. The verdict is still out on that and one would hope that the prosecution’s case does not hinge on just the testimony of a supermodel. However, for the diamond industry, the interest garnered with the public has brought the issue of blood diamonds to the forefront again.

While Taylor sat in the dock of The Hague courtroom, lamenting the possible consequences of his actions, and alleged diamond gift, another African dictator was eying his own gems. Zimbabwe put approximately 900,000 carats of Kimberley Process certified diamonds from the Marange fields on auction.

Marange, in case you’ve forgotten, is where government forces killed more than 200 people in a sting operation in November 2008 to curb illegal smuggling. A Kimberley Process review team subsequently reported firsthand accounts from the period, including “women who reported that, while under the custody of the security forces, they were raped repeatedly by military officers and that they have been forced to engage in sex with illegal diamond miners.” Sound familiar? Murder, violence, rape, sexual slavery…

The trial of Charles Taylor should have served as a constant reminder to the Kimberley Process officials as to why Zimbabwe’s diamonds should not have been certified. Instead, it was argued that Zimbabwe is not Sierra Leone, as the process struggled to apply its conflict diamonds definition to an elected government. The Kimberley members ultimately couldn’t apply the conflict diamonds definition and that is what facilitated Marange diamonds to make their way to the market. They had dealt with the cause of conflict diamonds – rebel groups versus elected officials – and not the effect they had: murder, violence rape.

The Charles Taylor trial should have served as sufficient clarification since its start in June 2007. Instead, it’s no longer a farfetched scenario that Naomi Campbell could soon unknowingly wear a Zimbabwe conflict diamond on the red carpet. It could have been avoided. What a shame.

The writer can be contacted at avi@diamonds.net.


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