- The Washington Times - Friday, July 30, 2010


Only Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s legendary president, could have managed such a guest list. At Genadendal, his Table Mountain residence in Cape Town, Mr. Mandela hosted what by all accounts was a lovely dinner for such notables as supermodel Naomi Campbell, actress Mia Farrow and Liberia’s then-President Charles Taylor.

Thirteen years after this eclectic gathering, the events of that night are front and center in an international courtroom. Mr. Taylor stands accused of being a war criminal and sits in the dock in The Hague, and one of the star witnesses is a star herself. According to Miss Farrow, Miss Campbell may have received a “blood diamond” from Mr. Taylor’s associates that evening. If true, the allegation will provide critical evidentiary support to international prosecutors, and thus the world’s eyes will be on Miss Campbell Thursday, when she is compelled to testify at Mr. Taylor’s trial in The Hague.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) is trying Mr. Taylor on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international law, including terrorism, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting and using child soldiers. The charges stem from allegations that Mr. Taylor founded, funded and supported the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel army responsible for mass atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor funded this war, in part, by plundering state resources and trading in blood diamonds, one of which he purportedly presented to Miss Campbell at Genadendal.

If SCSL prosecutors are able to demonstrate the linkage between Mr. Taylor’s state plunder, diamond trade and mass atrocities, Mr. Taylor will stand as one more example of the proposition that those who are willing to slaughter thousands of innocents are also willing to steal millions of dollars, as Mr. Taylor purportedly did during the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sadly, it seems that the link between war crimes and economic crimes is that one leads to the other. Without money from blood diamonds and other natural resources, Mr. Taylor was limited in what he was able to accomplish. But with supporters, business associates and friends in multiple countries and global financial centers willing to look the other way, Mr. Taylor’s particular brand of evil was able to flourish not just via warfare, but also through financial transactions throughout the world.

It is because of the global nature of such illicit financial transactions and transfers in plundered assets that Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, formed the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative. By assisting governments in their efforts to recover the proceeds of grand corruption, StAR serves as one more element in the fight against impunity, as it helps ensure that there are no safe havens for stolen assets. Thus, while tribunals such as SCSL are important institutions for holding perpetrators of war crimes responsible for their actions, recovering stolen financial assets is another important means of targeting those who act as financial enablers, thereby helping end the impunity for such crimes.

Miss Campbell’s story demonstrates that one does not need to be an international prosecutor, United Nations diplomat or World Bank official to find oneself in a position to help fight the impunity that so often is associated with war crimes and economic crimes. The supermodel, no stranger to courtrooms herself, likely never imagined that a dinner invitation from Mr. Mandela would land her on the witness stand in The Hague. But now, in an unlikely twist of fate, Miss Campbell has the unique opportunity to provide testimony that might help demonstrate that Mr. Taylor used blood diamonds for his own personal enrichment and to further the destruction he helped orchestrate in Africa.

Let us hope the supermodel recognizes the gravity of the role she is about to play in international justice and the fight against impunity and carries out her duties accordingly. As it was said by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.”

Mark V. Vlasic is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and partner at Ward & Ward PLLC, where he serves as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia Asset Recovery Team.

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