In a trial that lasted five years with 94 witnesses testifying—including Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow—Charles Taylor was found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law while he was president of Liberia from 1997 until 2003.
Specifically, Taylor was found guilty of 11 charges that included terror, murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. The rebels paid Taylor in diamonds, which created the term, “blood diamonds.”
The plaudits have been in streaming in since the verdict. “The trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone delivers a strong message that all perpetrators of atrocities, even those in the highest positions of power, will be held accountable for their actions,” declared an editorial in the Voice of America. Prosecutors and human rights organizations have echoed this sentiment. But what has this trial done to shed the world of “blood diamonds”? My response would be almost nothing.
The last world leader to have been convicted by an international tribunal was Karl Doenitz. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t heard of him. He was the person who led Nazi Germany for a very brief period of time following the suicide of Adolf Hitler. It takes more than a conviction of a world leader (or a temporary world leader) every 66 years before people can start declaring that heads of state will be held accountable for their actions. Especially when you consider how exceptional Taylor was as a brutal tyrant.
Charles Taylor Photo credit: AFP Getty Images
The gruesome testimony of the Sierra Leone conflict included a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son. Others said Taylor's fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed fetuses from women's wombs and practiced cannibalism. Children younger than 15 years old were forcefully enlisted to fight in the civil war. One witness reportedly said he saw Taylor eat a human liver.
Ironically, the most damaging testimony during the trial at The Hague may have come from supermodel Campbell and actor/activist Farrow. Campbell, with a big push by Farrow, testified that she received a small package of rough diamonds from Taylor during a dinner at Nelson Mandela’s house.
The Kimberley Process—the joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of “conflict diamonds”—was created in response to atrocities in Sierra Leone. And it worked reasonably well. However, the self-regulated organization was left on life support when it decided to allow the sale of rough diamond exports from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe, where diamonds are still fueling conflict and human rights abuses in that country. The only difference is that in this case the atrocities are not the result of civil war but that of a brutal dictator, Robert Mugabe. There are also problems with the diamond trade in Angola and Côte d’Ivoire.
Under U.S. leadership, the KP has made some inroads back to respectability. For example, it now has a functioning website, which wasn’t the case for years. However, leadership of the organization changes annually among participating countries. South Africa is next in line. Who knows if these few positive changes will continue?
Alex Perry of Time magazine said the guilty verdict may offer another way to bring justice to those who deal in conflict diamonds (Read More). However, I’m not so sure. One conviction of a world leader every 66 years isn’t exactly a great foundation for justice.
I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that the conflict diamonds issue isn’t close to being solved.