The spectacle of supermodel Naomi Campbell testifying at a war crimes court about her alleged gift from Liberia's ex-warlord has put 'blood diamonds' back in the media spotlight.
Warlord Charles Taylor is charged with war crimes over his alleged role in the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He is accused of backing Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who were behind thousands of atrocities. It is claimed Taylor sold blood diamonds to fund the Front's weapons.
Prosecutors were hoping Ms Campbell, 40, could link Taylor to blood diamonds, but she could only tell the court that ‘two men’ gave her the diamonds in the middle of the night.
Blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, are valuable stones mined in areas controlled by rebel armies and used to bankroll their violence. They are usually mined using forced labour. Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe are all accused of producing them.
Blood diamonds armed the war that tore apart the West African country from 1991 through to 2002. More than 120,000 people were killed and two million made homeless in Sierra Leone's civil war, which was marked by brutal atrocities, the widespread use of amputation as a weapon of terror and forcing child slaves to fight as soldiers.
The Revolutionary United Front, backed by Taylor, based their violent plan of attack on taking control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines. It soon built a reputation for brutality, beheading community leaders and raping women and children to terrorise ordinary people.
The rebel’s trademark terror tactic was mutilation and they amputated about 20,000 people with machetes and axes.
The RUF was also known for its Small Boys Units, made up of child soldiers as young as eight whom they drugged and sent out to fight with AK47 assault rifles because they were light to carry.
Children fought for both the RUF rebels and the pro-government group, the Kamajors during the civil war. When The RUF attacked a village, they would abduct the surviving children. The children, many of whom had seen their parents killed, they took to special camps and trained for war.
There are more than three hundred thousand child soldiers around the world, according to figures from the BBC. Every year the number grows as more children are recruited to fight. Children have also been made to fight in wars in Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma.