So, Just How Much Trouble Is Naomi Campbell Getting Into? And Is The International Jurist Going Tabloid?

I’ve heard that supermodel Naomi Campbell was rather accustomed to getting into trouble – something about hitting her maids, among other things – but I’ll leave that to tabloids and people magazines (personally, I’m not a reader).

The kind of trouble concerning Ms. Campbell that is of interest to me is that of eventual false testimony before an international criminal court, or at least a hybrid one: the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Now, I have absolutely no proof nor any reason to think that the supermodel lied in her testimony to the Court last Friday. But with the conflicting testimonies before the SCSL that we’ve been hearing these past few days, I just had to wonder (with a little help from Washington Post’s Colum Lynch’s Twitter feed) what consequences could be for Naomi Campbell should it turn out that she provided an international court with false testimony.

But before getting down to the law, a summary of the recent events at the SCSL is, I believe, necessary. Last Friday, The Hague was all in a flutter: a supermodel was coming to town! In a city more known for its international conferences, institutions, courts, and government-administrative functions, supermodels are not exactly regular visitors here (I should mention I just moved to The Hague last week). And then there was Mia Farrow. But more on that later. Naomi Campbell was not however coming for a modelling show (not sure that ever happens here), but was coming as a witness following a subpoena in Charles Taylor’s trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Apparently, Ms. Campbell was given several uncut diamonds in 1997 at her hotel room following a charity dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, but quickly gave them away to a friend. She claims that she does not know who gave her the stones, and apparently did not spend much time trying to figure that out.

As a personal aside, if someone was to give me uncut diamonds in the middle of the night at my hotel room, I would be beyond baffled. But apparently, such an eventful night is not unusual when you’re a supermodel, and life does go on. Some stuff just escapes me… Anyway, back to the story.

The Prosecution believes those diamonds to come from Charles Taylor, then President of Liberia, who was also present at the dinner, and hoped that Ms. Campbell’s testimony would prove that Charles Taylor was indeed dealing with militias in Sierra Leone responsible for many atrocities, exchanging diamonds for weapons on their behalf. But Ms. Campbell, for which it was so difficult to get her to testify before the Court, simply claimed that she knew nothing of the origin of the diamonds and did not keep them. So much for the trouble. It was a disappointing testimony for the Prosecution.

But not to worry. Just like a good tabloid story, there’s always something to bounce on. And the rebound came in the form of the testimony of Actress Mia Farrow and Naomi Campbell’s former agent, Ms. White, that directly contradict Naomi Campbell’s. According to Ms. Carole White, Naomi Campbell was fully aware that the diamonds came from Charles Taylor, who had promised her he would offer her some after a flirtatious evening. Actress Mia Farrow concurred, if not on the flirtation (honestly, who cares?) but on Naomi Campbell’s knowledge that Charles Taylor was responsible for offering her the diamonds.

So that could give us ground to suspect an eventual false testimony. It’s Mia Farrow and Carole White’s word against Naomi Campbell’s, and Farrow and White might have reasons to dirty Campbell’s name, but that’s not the issue I want to discuss.

The question that I want to raise is: what happens when a person gives false testimony to an international court? Do they get sent to jail? Don’t laugh: it’s possible.

The Law. International Courts, and in this case, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (which is again technically a hybrid court, but that’s irrelevant for this matter), do have – just like domestic courts – powers to subpoena individuals and  eventually hold them in contempt of the Court if they prove to be uncooperative and for example decide to provide false testimony.

These rules are contained in a document that is called the Rules of Procedure and Evidence that every international court adopts in the months following its creation. This document is established by the members of the Court, and sets out the rules concerning the day-to-day run of the Court that are not already established in the founding treaty or other founding document (whether an Agreement or a UN Security Council Resolution). The Rules of Procedure and Evidence contain the rules applicable when an individual is held in contempt of the Court. As far as the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the SCSL are concerned, the applicable rules are Rule 91 and Rule 77. Here’s Rule 91, which more directly concerns False Testimony. Rule 77 sets out the procedure for individuals held in Contempt of the Court, and it’s an interesting read, but is way too long to reproduce here. Emphasis is, of course, mine.

Rule 91: False Testimony under Solemn Declaration (amended 1 August 2003)

(A)    A Chamber, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, may warn a witness of the
duty to tell the truth and the consequences that may result from a failure to do so.
(B)    If a Chamber has strong grounds for believing that a witness may have knowingly and wilfully given false testimony, the Chamber may follow the procedure, as applicable, in Rule 77.
(C)    The maximum penalty for false testimony under solemn declaration shall be a fine of 2 million Leones or a term of imprisonment of 2 years, or both. The payment of any fine imposed shall be made to the Registrar to be held in the separate account referred to in Rule 77(H).
(D)    Sub-Rules (A) to (C) shall apply to a person who knowingly and wilfully makes a false statement in a written statement which the person knows, or has reason to know, may be used in evidence in proceedings before the Special Court.

Giving false testimony is no laughing matter, even before an international court. If Ms. Campbell is found guilty of having given false testimony, she can do time of up to 2 years, and pay a fine of up to 2 million Leones, which corresponds to – as of today, 10 August 2010 – about 500 USD. OK. I’m leaving the paragraph as it is when I started writing it, but I did not expect such a low figure. Well, everything’s relative, and I guess this is where it shows that it’s a hybrid court, with elements of the Sierra Leone’s judicial system included in its DNA… Ms. Naomi Campbell can still however get a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.

I also wanted to discuss a hypothesis in which an American citizen gave false testimony to the ICC, but while researching that, I just came across the fact that there were very little rules concerning contempt of the Court in the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Apparently, the Assembly of States Parties decided to delegate such prosecution to the national courts, on the basis of domestic law. I find that odd, and will look into it, but in any case, the discussion I wanted to have is pointless in such circumstances.

To try to end on a cheerier note. The potential good news for the SCSL and its current trial is that Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow’s testimonies before the Court have attracted attention, and a little media attention for international justice is usually a good thing. As Mark Kersten noted a while ago in his blog, the Court has had a hard time finding the financing to continue running the trial. This just can’t hurt.

And for those concerned about Ms. Campbell’s well-being after this undoubtedly difficult moment in her life, please be reassured, she seems to be recuperating rather well, even partying with Blood Diamond star Leonardo DiCaprio. Not that The International Jurist is going tabloid on you. Although, I have to admit I wouldn’t mind the potential increase in the audience…


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  1. #2 by Xavier Rauscher on 11 August 2010 - 21:41

    Thank you for these Gigi, they’re both very interesting.

    It appears to me that this really was a publicity stunt by the Prosecution of the SCSL, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
    International Criminal Justice needs a healthy dose of those. Just not too much either.

  2. #3 by Mark Kersten on 16 August 2010 - 11:10

    Nice blog, once again, Xavier!

    My initial thought is that it seems unlikely that an international or hybrid court will actually try someone for being in contempt of the court unless it is a high profile instance. How they deal with it in high profile cases such as Campbell’s will be interesting, however. My bet is that if Campbell did provide false testimony and the Court wanted to find her in contempt, they would likely summon her to Court in Sierra Leone. The SCSL simply doesn’t have the funds to try Campbell in the Hague. Do you know what the ICC would do in such a case? Have they ever charged a witness with contempt?

    As for the fact that it’s only $500 (USD), that is where it becomes relevant that it’s a hybrid Court, not an international Court, as you note. Knowing that the vast majority of individuals who would testify, and thus to whom the rules of procedure and evidence would apply, would be from Sierra Leone (and perhaps Liberia), the Court would have to set penalties high for such individuals. Had the penalties been high for individuals like Campbell it would likely be punishment disproportionate to the offense.

  3. #4 by Xavier Rauscher on 16 August 2010 - 18:46


    As always, you raise great points. My feeling is that the Prosecution in the SCSL is not going to bother to even attempt to charge Campbell with contempt of the Court. First of all, it’s way too much hassle just proving that Campbell did lie (as of now, its Mia Farrow and Carole White’s word against Naomi Campbell’s), and secondly, Naomi Campbell’s testimony was a plus but not a key element in the Prosecution’s case against Charles Taylor.
    I remain convinced that this was more a publicity stunt than anything, and like I mentioned above, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

    On the ICC, I haven’t had time to look it up in details yet, but I can tell you two different things that crept up in my research for the post.

    Initially, one of the things I wanted to do in the post was discuss the hypothesis according to which a US citizen gives false testimony to the ICC. Imagine the ICC fining, or even imprisoning, that US citizen for Contempt. How would the US react?

    But while researching this, it turned out that the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence has no rules at all on contempt. You will not find the word “contempt” in the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. I’ll be visiting the ICC at the end of the month, and my mind is set on asking them how that can possibly work out.
    From what I’ve managed to glimpse here, the ICC has limited powers for “disciplining” conduct in the Court, and essentially relies on domestic jurisdiction to prosecute. Personally, I’m stunned.

    Something that may explain it, and the second thing that I’ve found out and that stunned me is that the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the ICC were adopted by the Assembly of State Parties. As far as I know, it is always up to the Judges themselves to adopt these rules, not to the States. This might explain the peculiarities of the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence as it relates to false testimony and contempt, but it also might not. I’ll have to research it a bit further.

    To my knowledge, the ICC has never been confronted with a proven case of false testimony before it. But I could be wrong on this.

  4. #5 by Mark Kersten on 16 August 2010 - 20:49

    Looks like Article 70 of the Rome Statute deal with this (

    This makes some sense. I am not a lawyer, but I would think that arresting, trying or punishing someone at the ICC who is in contempt of the Court would go against the Rome Statute’s intention of focusing on those who “bear the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression. I am still a bit confused, however, precisely where a hearing on contempt would be heard – at the ICC or on the territory of the requesting state?

    It would be, to be honest, rather unusual to see the ICC target individuals in contempt of Court when it does not try regular perpetrators of the above crimes. In a sense it would then be a Court holding to account those who bare greatest responsibility and those who lie in Court, but no one in between. It thus makes sense that it considers false testimony as an issue pertaining to the domestic laws of the requesting state.

    I look forward to hearing what you else dig up!

    Also – has a US citizen ever testified at the ICC? I was present when an American diplomat testified at Karadzic’s case at the ICTY but have not heard of an American testifying at the ICC. That would indeed be an interesting situation!

  5. #6 by Xavier Rauscher on 16 August 2010 - 21:06

    That’s right about article 70. Except read §2 of that article, and then go check out the rules of Procedure and Evidence (articles 20 & 21). There’s a void.

    As for your argument that the ICC should focus – as per its Rome Statute mandate – on the big fish and leave those in contempt of Court to the domestic jurisdictions’ discretion, I respectfully disagree (I think that’s a first). I think that if the Court does not have the power to punish those who lie to it, and disrupt the good administration of justice before it, the door’s open for some serious dysfunctional justice.

    Again, I’ll try to get a discussion going about this when I visit the ICC (if our guide is receptive to the issue). I’d love to get a practitioner’s view on this, because I’m just standing on the theory and the principle of it. It’s true that if the proceedings for contempt of the Court grows into a full-fledged trial in itself, it might be disproportionate. To be honest, I’m not sure how contempt for the Court would work procedure-wise even in a normal Court. Do they really start a whole trial for that?

    I’ll look into it.

    And as far as I know, a US citizen has never testified at the ICC. I would love to see that happen, and see how the US Government (and Congress) reacts!

  6. #7 by Actress on 18 January 2011 - 06:34

    I must say laws are equal for everyone so if Naomi Campbell is in fault then she should be punished.

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