People in Sierra Leone and Liberia were glued to Naomi Campbell’s “blood diamond” testimony in the trial of war crimes-accused ex-president Charles Taylor, but many were disappointed.
Survivors and fighters from the 1991-2001 Sierra Leone war that claimed about 120,000 lives gathered around radios and televisions in the western African neighbours to follow proceedings in The Hague.
In Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, former rebel Anthony Smith told AFP the supermodel’s admission that she received rough diamonds that may have been from Taylor in 1997 took him back to his days of mining for rebel leaders.
“It’s a memory relived as I remember being sent by my commander to dig for diamonds in Kono (in the east of the country) and then to turn all gem stones to him,” he said in a courtroom crammed with about 100 people.
“Nobody told us after this where the diamonds have gone.”
Taylor, 62, is accused of receiving illegally mined “blood diamonds” in return for arming rebels who murdered, raped and maimed Sierra Leone civilians, cutting off their limbs and carving initials into their bodies.
He has been on trial for three years before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with Campbell’s testimony sparking new interest in the dragging case.
Thomas Moiwo, a double amputee from the brutal conflict, said: “I am disappointed over the testimony as it failed to show the way Taylor might have distributed our diamonds.”
In neighbouring Liberia, the trial of the ex-president has led to passionate discussions around television screens but many worried about the outcome.
“I am very much disappointed in these so-called prosecutors,” said Mohamed Sheriff, a 35-year-old student at the University of Liberia who saw his entire family executed before him by Taylor’s rebel forces.
“They made big news about this appearance but as you can see they did not obtain anything concrete. I don’t think these people will find evidence of what they have accused Charles Taylor of.”
Liberia lost about 250,000 people in successive civil conflicts led by Taylor, first when he was a warlord heading a violent rebellion in the 1990’s and then, two years after he was elected president in 1997, when his government was fielding off the opposition.
He stepped down in 2003, amid international pressure, and was arrested and handed over to the UN court in The Hague in 2006.
Jacob Kojo, 42, a street vendor in the Liberian capital Monrovia said: “Each time I look at this trial I feel bad and ask myself … why African leaders cannot realise that they can go to international court to be ridiculed?”
He added: “For weeks you journalists made us to understand that the statement of Naomi was going to dump Taylor. Now as you can see it was not the case.”
Taylor has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging, and also denies giving diamonds to Campbell.
Prosecutors had subpoenaed Campbell in a bid to cast doubt on Taylor’s credibility and to try to disprove his claim he never possessed rough diamonds.
Francis Kabah, 52, lost his only daughter in Liberia’s wars and despaired of seeing justice.
“I hate Taylor but I am getting to believe that the accusers did not do their homework well,” he said.