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…