Friday, 6 August 2010

Naomi Campbell at Special Court for Sierra Leone

Charles Taylor's lawyer Courtney Philips described Naomi Campbell's testimony at the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a 'spectacular own goal'. The general view seems to be that the testimony did not deliver what the Prosecutor had hoped, namely a direct link between Taylor and conflict diamonds.
The transcript of the hearing is now available. For a good account of the hearing, as always, read Marlise Simons in the New York Times.
The connection between Taylor and conflict diamonds is certainly an issue in the case. But even if that were proven, does it show that Taylor was directly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity in neighbouring Sierra Leone? It merely links him to support and financing of a rebel group trying to overthrow the regime in another country. I never thought that issue was even in doubt.
The whole business is looking more and more like a debate about what common lawyers call a collateral evidentiary issue. Unlike most common law rules of evidence, this one is not about shielding the jury from unreliable testimony. Rather, it is about developing tangential issues with a view to challenging credibility, something that never ends because most people will lie about something if you push them far enough.
If Naomi Campbell had said Taylor gave her the diamonds - which she did not - then that might prove Taylor was a liar when he said he did not have conflict diamonds. But maybe Campbell is lying. Apparently we will soon be treated to Mia Farrow and Campbell's former PA who will, presumably, say that Campbell didn't tell the truth. And then there's the leader of the South African NGO who first claimed he never received any diamonds, after Campbell said she gave them to him for his NGO. Now he admits that he took them, but didn't give them to the NGO.
Maybe there is more than one liar in this whole business. But the story is now about vanity, greed and  celebrity, and very far indeed from the terrible human rights violations that ravaged Sierra Leone in 1997 and 1998.

1 comment:

Alice Lam said...

Charles Taylor's defence counsel is Courtenay Griffiths QC, rather than Courtney Philips.