Ian Smillie, one of the main drivers of the “conflict diamond” issue and research coordinator of Partnership Africa Canada, was the lead witness at former Liberian president Charles Taylor’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. He spoke about the role diamonds played in Sierra Leone’s civil war. This makes him not only the first witness in Taylor’s trial, but the first witness at the International Criminal Court ever.
Although we hesitate to issue “congratulations” in conjunction with a war crimes trial, this is an honor that speaks well to Smillie’s expertise and sincerity. The court also played excerpts from the very good “Blood Diamonds” documentary on the History Channel.
Speaking to JCK from his hotel room in the Hague, Smillie gave his impressions (noting he was very limited in what he could say):
I think the prosecution wanted [my testimony] to be a stage setter. There is going to be a lot of very detailed and mundane testimony over the next year, so they might have thought this as something the public can understand, because of the “Blood Diamond” movie and all the publicity over conflict diamonds. They saw this as something they could relate to, perhaps more than they can relate to a very detailed story of some atrocity.
I am not sure that diamonds are going to play a big role in the trial from now on. If you look at the indictment you will see the diamonds were a means to an end but they weren’t an end in themselves …
Maybe it’s necessary to replay this nightmare [the story of Sierra Leone’s civil war] one more time. But I think this will be the end of it.
Some of the testimony bogged down over questions about the value of diamonds in Sierra Leone versus those in Liberia, and how Antwerp kept statistics pre-Kimberley. These would presumably require people from the diamond industry to sort out, but Smillie doesn’t see those questions coming up again in the rest of the trial.
For conflict diamond aficionados, here is a live-blog (starting here) and summary of Smillie’s testimony. (Cameo by Saul Goldberg.) And here is press coverage from Time, the New York Times, BBC and the Associated Press.