Based on her reticent posture in Holland today, Naomi Campbell may be hoping to receive more unsavory gifts from some present or future African dictator in the years ahead. The super-model, cross-examined as a “hostile” witness in the criminal case against deposed Liberian dictator Charles Tayler, pointedly denied that she knew that the bag of diamonds she received in 1997 while on a visit to South Africa came from Taylor. Disputing testimony from her agent at the time that indeed Taylor tried to ignite an affair with her, Campbell — a legendary beauty afflicted with an infantile mind — seemed intent on signaling to other African dictators that she is not the kind of women who gets an illicit gift and then gabs. She even went so far as to dis the rough diamonds she received, calling them “pebbles.”
The prosecutors with a United Nations war-crimes tribunal want to show that Taylor directly dealt in illicit diamonds, using them to lubricate his dictatorship and float his lifestyle. That the court must rely on such flimsy evidence as the Campbell affair suggests that Taylor’s trial is verging on the trivial. The major questions about his role ought to include an examination of the U.S. government’s role of installing him in power and, perhaps, helping him remain in power long after he vacated the peculiar “reservation” that his C.I.A. liasons envisioned for him. That a UN war-crimes tribunal persists in conceiving of Taylor’s crimes in the most narrowest of fashions — as if he was a shoplifter caught on a clumsy encounter with Harrod’s — highlights the limitations of human-rights law. The big crimes committed by Taylor go well beyond the scope of any war-crimes mandate and hark back to an era when really “big men” in Moscow, Washington and Havana called the shots in many African countries. What’s needed much more than criminal trials of deposed African dictators is a kind of truth-and-reconciliation commission on how the Cold War contest between the U.S. and the Soviet Union distorted African societies from top to bottom and consumed some of the continent’s best and brightest.