Supermodel Naomi Campbell testified this week before the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague about allegations that she received a gift of blood diamonds from former Liberian President Charles Taylor while they were both present in South Africa in 1997.
Also this week, Issa Hassan Sesay, the former convicted interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that RUF fighters have been framing stories against Mr. Taylor because the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) made promises to them and that some of them saw the Special Court as a place to make money for their evidence.
On Thursday, the much anticipated testimony of Ms. Campbell took place, with the British supermodel telling the court that two men had woken her up in South Africa and offered her “dirty-looking stones” as a gift.
Ms. Campbell, who appeared before the court after being subpoenaed by the judges, testified that she was in her room sleeping after attending a star-studded dinner that was hosted by Nelson Mandela when two men knocked on her door and gave her a pouch saying, “a gift for you.”
“When I was sleeping, I had a knock on my door, I opened and two men gave me a pouch and said, ‘a gift for you’,” Ms. Campbell told the court on Thursday.
Ms. Campbell said that she did not know the men, they did not introduce themselves to her, and they did not say who they were.
“I was not sure who they were. When they gave me the pouch, I just put it next to my bed, and I went back to bed,” Ms. Campbell said.
When asked why she did not ask the men who had sent them to deliver the gift, Ms. Campbell said, “I was sleeping, I had travelled for many hours, and I was exhausted.”
“The next morning, I opened the pouch…I saw a few stones in there, and they were very small, dirty-looking stones,” she added.
Ms. Campbell said that at breakfast, she explained the incident to her friends, Hollywood actress Mia Farrow and Ms. Campbell’s former agent Carole White, both of whom are scheduled to testify about the same incident on Monday. When one of these two persons suggested that the diamonds must have been from Mr. Taylor, Ms. Campbell said she also thought the former Liberian president had sent her the gift.
“The next morning, I told Ms. Farrow and Ms. White, and they said it must be Mr. Taylor, and I said I thought [that it] was,” Ms. Campbell testified.
Ms. Campbell said she cannot remember who between Ms. Farrow and Ms. White told her that the diamonds must have been from Mr. Taylor.
Ms. Campbell said she did not want to keep the diamonds, so she handed them over to her friend, Mr. Jeremy Ratcliffe, the former head of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa. When prosecutors contacted her lawyers last year about the incident that took place in South Africa in 1997, Ms. Campbell contacted Mr. Ratcliffe who informed her that she still has the diamonds in his possession.
Under cross-examination by Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, Ms. Campbell told the court that Ms. Farrow and Ms. White gave the wrong accounts of the incident in statements they made to prosecutors.
Ms. Campbell said that Ms. White lied when she made a statement that she (White) was present when the men arrived with the diamonds to give to Ms. Campbell. In Ms. White’s statement, she said that she was the one who opened the door for the two men and offered them bottles of coke before they offered the diamonds to Ms. Campbell in a piece of paper.
“I didn’t see Carole White, I saw the two men, she might have been around the corner but I did not see her,” Ms. Campbell said.
“This is a woman that has a powerful motive to lie about you,” Mr. Griffiths asked Ms. Campbell.
“I trusted her, but I no longer trust her and no longer work with her,” Ms. Campbell responded.
Ms. Campbell admitted that Ms. White has filed a lawsuit against her for breach of contract, a lawsuit that she said she did not want to discuss in this court.
When asked whether Ms. White was present when she handed the diamonds to Mr. Ratcliffe, Ms. Campbell said, “I don’t recall that she was but she could have been, that’s 13 years ago.”
Mr. Griffiths also asked Ms. Campbell whether it was mere speculation that her friends made when they said that the diamonds were from Mr. Taylor.
“I just assumed that they were. I can’t speak on behalf of them [Farrow and White] but when it was brought, I just believed that it was,” she said.
On Monday, Mr. Sesay, the former interim leader of the RUF told the court that many RUF fighters saw the Special Court as a place to make money by giving false evidence against accused persons.
These former fighters, in their testimonies against Mr. Taylor, previously told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that, among other things, the former Liberian president received diamonds from RUF commanders, including Mr. Sesay, in return for arms, that it was Mr. Taylor who appointed Mr. Sesay as interim leader of the RUF, and that when RUF rebels abducted UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone in May 2000, it was Mr. Taylor who mandated Mr. Sesay to release the peacekeepers because the RUF was under his (Mr. Taylor’s) control. On Monday, Mr. Sesay dismissed these as made-up stories.
Responding to a prosecution witness’s testimony that he made several trips to Monrovia in 2000 during which he secured arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay told the judges that “this is a made-up story.”
“I know that our RUF people, most of them saw the Special Court as a place to make money, so this is a made up story,” Mr. Sesay said.
A prosecution witness, who testified in 2008, told the court that when RUF leader Foday Sankoh was arrested by the government of Sierra Leone in 2000 following the abduction of peacekeepers by the RUF, Mr. Taylor invited Mr. Sesay to visit Liberia on two occasions in May 2000. The first visit, according to the prosecution witness was because Mr. Taylor wanted to know what had happened to Mr. Sankoh, and the second visit was when Mr. Taylor instructed Mr. Sesay to release the peacekeepers. Mr. Sesay on Monday dismissed these accounts as lies, saying that in the month of May 2000, he only made one visit to Liberia and that during said visit, Mr. Taylor was not concerned about what had happened to Mr. Sankoh but rather was more focused on the release of the peacekeepers.
“This witness is lying because I went to Monrovia once in May to discuss the release of the peacekeepers,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“So the first time that Mr. Taylor called me, it was to discuss the release of the peacekeepers, it was not about Mr. Sankoh’s arrest in Freetown. That is a lie,” he added.
The prosecution witness in 2008 also told the court that Mr. Taylor told Mr. Sesay in 2000 that he (Taylor) will be made Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if he secured the release of the peacekeepers. He promised that if Mr. Sesay helped to make this possible by releasing the peacekeepers, he (Taylor) would help the RUF in their struggle to take over Sierra Leone.
When asked on by Mr. Griffiths on Monday whether Mr. Taylor had suggested “that his appointment as ECOWAS Chairman was dependent on that outcome,” Mr. Sesay said “No, he did not tell me that.”
He also said that Mr. Taylor did not make any promises to him.
Asked again whether Mr. Taylor’s discussion with him was “in a form of a bargain…if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you,” Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“It was not a negotiation, it was not a bargain…to say there were preconditions put down for the release of the peacekeepers, no,” Mr. Sesay said.
“When I went, the way he was speaking to me, he looked unhappy…for me, he brought the understanding that we cannot fight the UN and to hold the peacekeepers will be a problem for the RUF…I had no other option but to release the peacekeepers, because I was trying to avoid other problems,” Mr. Sesay explained.
When asked whether he was going to Monrovia because Mr. Taylor was his boss, Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“Mr. Taylor was not my boss, my boss was Foday Sankoh…Mr. Taylor was never my boss, I had never taken instructions from him,” Mr. Sesay said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Sesay refuted claims by a prosecution witness that when he (Sesay) became interim leader of the RUF, he went to Liberia to inform Mr. Taylor about the disarmament of RUF fighters in Sierra Leone and that Mr. Taylor ordered him not to disarm to the UN peacekeepers in the country, saying that the UN could not be trusted. Mr. Sesay denied that such a meeting ever took place.
“I did not have such a meeting with Charles Taylor, and he never told me not to disarm to the UN,” Mr. Sesay said.
The prosecution witness who made this claim also told the court in 2008 that after Mr. Taylor had told Mr. Sesay not to disarm, “Issa [Sesay] said he didn’t believe he will continue taking instructions from Charles Taylor.”
“He said Charles Taylor now had peace in his country, that he had won elections in his country. He said Charles Taylor had already given peace to his own people and he doesn’t want he, Issa to give peace to his own people,” Mr. Griffiths quoted the prosecution witness as saying in 2008.
The witness also testified in 2008 that Mr. Taylor ordered Mr. Sesay not to handover to the UN the arms that Mr. Taylor had provided. Instead, the weapons were to be handed back to Mr. Taylor if Mr. Sesay and the RUF no longer wanted to use them.
“Charles Taylor had said he was the one who had given them the weapons. If they did not use them, they should be returned to him,” the prosecution witness said in 2008.
Mr. Sesay on Wednesday dismissed these claims as lies.
“I don’t recall because such a thing did not take place. Mr. Taylor or Yeaten [Benjamin], nobody gave me arms. When I became interim leader, nobody gave me arms. The arms that the RUF had, I disarmed all to the UN,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay accused prosecution witnesses of making up stories against Mr. Taylor, saying that such witnesses lied when they testified that the RUF was like a younger brother for Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group, or that RUF leader Foday Sankoh sought Mr. Taylor’s approval before the RUF amputated the arms of civilians in order to stop them from voting in the 1996 elections in Sierra Leone.
On Friday, Mr. Sesay reiterated his position that RUF fighters lied against Mr. Taylor because the OTP had made promises to them, promises which he said have not bee honoured.
Mr. Sesay pointed out a specific prosecution witness, Abu Keita, whom he said had made up stories against Mr. Taylor because the Prosecutor had made promises to send him and his family abroad and to give him some money for his testimony. He said when the Prosecutor had not honoured his promise, Mr. Keita had threatened to take legal action against the Prosecutor in the Sierra Leonean courts. Mr. Sesay said he read about Mr. Keita’s threat of court action in the Sierra Leonean newspapers while he (Sesay) was in detention in Sierra Leone.
“I read in a newspaper where Abu Keita was saying he will take the Prosecutor to court if the Prosecutor did not honor his promises to him before he came and testified against Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“The Prosecutor had promised to send him and his family abroad and to give him some money. It was for him to make up some stories that will appease the Prosecutor,” Mr. Sesay added.
Mr. Sesay was responding to claims made by Mr. Keita in his testimony that on the instructions of Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay had mobilized RUF fighters to invade and unseat the Guinean government of the late former President Lansana Conte. Mr. Keita in his testimony said that he was among those who were sent to attack Guinea. Mr. Sesay on Friday dismissed this evidence as false.
“I did not send Abu Keita or any other person to attack Guinea. He is lying. That is a lie,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Mr. Sesay explained that the RUF entered into Guinea because Guinean soldiers had been attacking RUF positions in Sierra Leone. There was a need for the RUF to repel the Guinean forces, Mr. Sesay said.
“The Guineans had been crossing and attacking RUF positions in 1998 and the RUF had been in Kailahun since 1991 and they never crossed into Guinea but the Guineans started attacking RUF positions from  98 up to 2000…When they returned to Guinea, RUF chased them there,” Mr. Sesay said.
Also in his testimony on Friday, Mr. Sesay gave credence to a regular theme that was prevalent in Mr. Taylor’s own testimony: that Mr. Taylor was a peacekeeper and his involvement with rebel forces in Sierra Leone was solely to bring an end to the conflict in that country.
When asked by a defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Silas Chikera what the nature of his discussions with Mr. Taylor were in the year 2000, Mr. Sesay had this to say:
“All the discussion I had with Charles Taylor in 2000 was about peace in Sierra Leone, and it is in those discussions that peace started and that’s why peace returned to Sierra Leone.”
Mr. Taylor has long maintained that he only had dealings with RUF rebels because he was working with ECOWAS leaders to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Prosecutors on the other hand have said that Mr. Taylor was in control of the rebel group and that in his regular meetings with RUF commanders in Liberia, he received diamonds from the rebels, gave them arms and ammunition for use in Sierra Leone, and helped them to plan certain operations that led to the commission of crimes against the civilian population of the country. According to prosecutors, when Mr. Sesay became leader of the RUF, Mr. Taylor instructed him not to allow the RUF to be disarmed by United Nations peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor has denied these assertions. Mr. Sesay told the court that the allegations are lies because Mr. Taylor was a peacemaker.
“Mr. Taylor was concerned about the disarmament in Sierra Leone and the commitment of the RUF…Even Mr. Taylor was one of the ECOWAS leaders who brokered peace in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Sesay told the court.