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Six Degrees of Separation: Naomi Campbell’s Cream Suit…Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

August 12, 2010

Cream suit, a salient detail in the war crimes trial

The media was all atwitter this past week because THE miss Naomi Campbell, scary but gorgeous icon that she is, took the stand at the Hague in the war crimes trial against Charles Taylor.  Never the willing accomplice, Campbell was subpoenaed to testify after it became clear she was the recipient of questionable diamonds at the home of ex President Taylor back in ’97.

Although Campbell’s mind-numbing ignorance – she claimed to have never heard of Mr. Taylor before the night she’d met him (OK, fine), had never heard the term “blood diamonds” (alright…), and had never heard of the country Liberia (wow) – was a sad testimony to just how far so many in the upper echelon of the developed world are from the reality of others, the “demure cream suit” that she wore was an unlikely boon for the fight against war crimes writ large.

Why?  Ironically, much more of the world sat up and noticed.  In fact, the trial is now being “widely followed” thanks to Campbell.  Although infuriating for many reasons, if Campbell’s cream suit made just one person go back to the Wikipedia page to read up again (or for the first time) on the Sierra Leone civil war, or the long, curious reign of Charles Taylor, well then alright.

Not that the UN or the Hague are known for timeliness in trying war crimes (oh good, the first Khmer Rouge commander was just convicted and sentenced to 19 years for the mass killing of 14,000 people back in the 70’s?), but the issues at hand are ones of ultimate and essential importance to everyone, especially women.  The aftermath of genocides and wars become far and distant memories to the public while the people most affected continue to live through the painful and slow recovery.

Taylor, a famously wicked and powerful rebel then elected to presidency in Liberia, is accused of dirty handiwork in Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war that killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.  I thought it strange that Campbell would be so ten-foot-pole away from it all, given that she’s actually a global ambassador for the White Ribbon Alliance, a global network of celebrity advocates on issues of maternal mortality.

Hopefully she’s heard of Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and killer human rights advocate and all around amazing woman – who just toured Sierra Leone this week to decry the maternal health obstacles still in place there.

Sierra Leone has consistently had one of the absolute worst rates of maternal mortality in the world, second only to Afghanistan, with women having a 1 in 8 risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.  In fact, Amnesty International calls the maternal health situation in SL a “human rights emergency,” most certainly an element to be considered in a war crimes trial.

While the civil war in Sierra Leone was a broad-sweeping and generally deadly affair, it is clear that women suffer dramatically more on a number of levels during times of insecurity.  For starters, poor infrastructure (roads, transport) and a weak health care net (no doctors, no skilled emergency obstetric workers) are a major contributing factor to the high number of Sierra Leonian women who die in pregnancy or childbirth each year.  So there we have one fatal and long-lingering after-effect of the war…of Charles Taylor…from whom Naomi Campbell received a gift of blood diamonds late one night 13 years ago.

See?  We are all connected somehow, and Campbell owes it to the women of Sierra Leone to step up her advocacy on the issues that are affecting their lives in the most intimate and inevitable ways.  Taylor himself should also have to answer to the lingering pain he’s wrought on women in the country through the consequence of the war he was involved in.

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