Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale

Former Liberian rebel commander appeals life sentence for war crimes

In this file court-sketch made on October 10, 2022 former regional commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that fought the National Patriotic Front of ex-president Charles Taylor, Kunti Kamara (C) faces charges of crimes against humanity, including torture, at the Paris criminal court, in Paris. AFP - BENOIT PEYRUCQ

Former Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara will on Tuesday begin his appeal against a life sentence handed down by a Paris court in 2022 for complicity in crimes against humanity.

On 2 November 2022, a French court also convicted Kamara of torture and aggravated acts of barbarism for which the court sentenced him to life in prison.

In 1993 and 1994, in the midst of Liberia's civil war, Kamara was alleged to have committed multiple acts of violence in and around the town of Foya, in Lofa county in northwestern Liberia.

At the time, Kamara was a regional commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) – a rebel group that fought the National Patriotic Front of ex-president Charles Taylor.

Prosecutors accused him of executing civilians and organising forced marches, describing ULIMO's control of Lofa county in the 1990s as a "governance by terror".

"ULIMO had the region under control, using terror as a mode of governance: public executions, cannibalism, forced labour, torture, rape and sexual slavery...” Prosecutor Aurélie Belliot recounted during the trial, as reported by Justice Info website.

Fighters of the ULIMO faction, on September 2, 1992, near Monrovia, Liberia © AFP/Archivoe

'I was a simple soldier'

Twelve witnesses and eight civil parties were heard during the three weeks of hearings. They formally recognised Kunti Kamara as one of the perpetrators.

When Kamara was given one last opportunity to speak before the Assize Court in Paris, he said: "I have nothing to say except that I am innocent today, I will be innocent tomorrow. I was a simple soldier". He had previously said he was the victim of a conspiracy.

Kamara’s lawyer Maryline Secci, was critical of the fact that her client's trial should be based entirely on testimonial evidence, decades after the events.

“Sometimes the accusation is based on only one direct witness," she said. “This would be worth almost nothing in a common law case, so why accept it in this case?” she asked the jury in 2022.

“Our position is not to say that nothing happened in Liberia, but that Mr. Kamara did not commit these crimes," Secci said. “Remember that reasonable doubt should benefit the accused.”

Presumption of innocence 'ignored'

Even during the hearings, Secci believes Kamara did not benefit from the presumption of innocence to which he is entitled.

"While the goal of universal jurisdiction is commendable, we are faced with an extremely complex context and our own ignorance. No one here has a true understanding of what the civil war in Liberia was like. We are looking at this through our own cultural prisms and that is problematic,” she argued.

The tribunal was set up in 2012 to try suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide detained on French soil, irrespective of where their alleged crimes were committed.

Kamara was arrested in France in 2018 and his is the first case taken by the unit that is not related to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Witnesses and plaintiffs will again travel to France from Liberia for the appeal trial that is scheduled to last until 29 March.

Impunity is still total

Despite the trauma that this new trial represents, the lawyer for the eight civil parties, Sabrina Delattre, hopes that the trial “will be able to lift the veil a little on what it was”.

She told French news agency AFP: "The conviction is still there" that "Liberia is a country which was ravaged after a civil war for 20 years and that impunity is still total there despite the recent promises of the new president."

The crimes of the civil war (1989 and 2003), which left a total of 250,000 dead, have never been judged by the country where former rebel leaders now occupy high positions in the government.

During his inauguration speech in late January, new President Joseph Boakai said his government will explore the possibility of opening a War Crimes and Economic Crimes Tribunal (WECC).

(with newswires)

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.