Did we learn anything from Naomi Campbell’s testimony?

In case you were wondering, supermodels are not particularly well informed about world events. Exhibit A: Naomi Campbell’s testimony at the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor today:  ‘I didn’t know anything about Charles Taylor before. I had never heard of Liberia before. I had never heard the term blood diamonds before,’ she told ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images
VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images
VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images

In case you were wondering, supermodels are not particularly well informed about world events. Exhibit A: Naomi Campbell's testimony at the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor today: 

'I didn't know anything about Charles Taylor before. I had never heard of Liberia before. I had never heard the term blood diamonds before,' she told the court.

Beyond that, it's hard to see what was really accomplished by turning the trial of a man who is accused of responsibility for hundreds and thousands of deaths, rapes, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers, into a detalied inquest into what Mia Farrow told Naomi Campbell and her estranged assistant at a hotel breakfast in 1997. (Though I'm pretty certain this is the first time that the AP's correspondent at The Hague has ever had the chance to use the phrase "classic chignon.")

In case you were wondering, supermodels are not particularly well informed about world events. Exhibit A: Naomi Campbell’s testimony at the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor today: 

‘I didn’t know anything about Charles Taylor before. I had never heard of Liberia before. I had never heard the term blood diamonds before,’ she told the court.

Beyond that, it’s hard to see what was really accomplished by turning the trial of a man who is accused of responsibility for hundreds and thousands of deaths, rapes, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers, into a detalied inquest into what Mia Farrow told Naomi Campbell and her estranged assistant at a hotel breakfast in 1997. (Though I’m pretty certain this is the first time that the AP’s correspondent at The Hague has ever had the chance to use the phrase "classic chignon.")

Prosecutors say Campbell’s testimony will help refute Taylor’s claim that he never traded guns to rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds, and perhaps the "dirty stones" that a pair of goons gave Campbell in her hotel room that night will put the nail in the coffin. But given that the prosecution rested their case in February, 2009, and have now reopened it in order to call Campbell and Farrow as witnesses, the whole thing seems like a bit of an unseemly publicity stunt, given the seriousness of the charges against Taylor. 

Some human rights groups say that’s fine, and that the publicity will help raise awareness of the ongoing trade in conflict diamonds. Maybe Campbell can inadvertently succeed where Leonardo DiCaprio and Kanye West failed, but I think the problem is beyond one of publicity at this point. As Gregory Campbell wrote for FP last year: 

The sordid business of blood diamonds was believed to have ended with the adoption in 2003 of the Kimberley Process, a UN-sanctioned agreement between 75 countries that import and export diamonds, diamond industry leaders and nongovernmental organizations. Its mission is to certify that diamonds on sale at the corner jeweler did not arrive there at the expense of murdered and mutilated Africans.

When controversy was stoked anew in 2006 with the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, the industry simply pointed to the existence of the Kimberley Process to convince moviegoers that conflict diamonds were an old problem that had already been solved.[…]

The reality is different. According to recent reports by NGOs, including Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada and Human Rights Watch, blood diamonds are still circulating freely and smuggling remains rampant. Some of the worst countries in the diamond business, such as Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, can’t account for where as many as 50 percent of the diamonds they export originate, making their status as clean gems highly questionable. Meanwhile, Cote d’Ivoire, the only country considered to be the source of "official" conflict diamonds due to rebel control of its northern diamond mines, has expanded its production since it was placed under UN sanction in 2004, meaning the rebels are finding willing markets for them somewhere.

The enforcement mechanisms are are unlikely to improve without concerted pressure from consumers. Most western consumers are probably aware of blood diamonds at this point, but don’t feel it’s something they need to take responsibility for.  I’m not sure that a story that portrays these stones as a mysterious commodity traded in the dead of night by dictators and supermodels rather than a product you can buy at the local mall really furthers that goal.

Update: See Shelby Grossman on what Naomi Campbell should have said

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.