Blood Diamonds in Spotlight at War Crimes Trial

The blood diamond issue took center stage at the opening of former Liberian president Charles Taylor’s trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The prosecution asserts that Taylor drove the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, which was funded in part by Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth. To lead off its case, the prosecution aired excerpts from the documentary Blood Diamonds, which was shown last year on The History Channel. Ian Smillie, research coordinator of Partnership Africa Canada and one of the main drivers of the conflict diamond issue, was the first witness at the trial—making him the first-ever witness at the International Criminal Court.

Speaking to JCK from his hotel room in The Hague, Smillie said his testimony was 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 of this as something the public can understand, because of the Blood Diamond movie and all the publicity over conflict diamonds,” he said. “The prosecution saw this as something people could relate to, perhaps more than they can relate to a very detailed story of some atrocity.”

But he doesn’t think diamonds will play a big role in the rest of the trial. “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,” he said.

He also thinks this will be among the last times the story of Sierra Leone’s civil war will be rehashed. “Maybe it’s necessary to replay this nightmare one more time,” he said. “But I think this will be the end of it.”