Kunti Kamara’s trial reignites debate over Liberia’s war crimes tribunal

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Is investigating war crimes possible today in Liberia? The question arises more than ever after the first trial in France for crimes committed during the Liberian civil wars delivered its verdict on Wednesday, November 2. After sixteen days of hearings, the Paris Assize Court sentenced Kunti Kamara, former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (Ulimo), to life imprisonment for “acts of barbarism” and “complicity in crimes against humanity”.

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The court, made up of three professional magistrates and six jurors, found the 47-year-old Liberian to be “CO Kundi” (for commanding officer), a former rebel leader who brought terror to the town of Foya (north-west) by committing a series of abuses between June 1993 and the end of 1994. Along with other Ulimo leaders, including the bloodthirsty “Ugly Boy” (naughty boy), Kunti Kamara was notably found guilty of having participated in the torture of the teacher David Ndeminin, whose heart had been torn out and then eaten.

Arrested in the Paris region in 2018, Kunti Kamara was tried in Paris under the “universal jurisdiction” exercised under certain conditions by France to try the most serious crimes committed outside its territory. About twenty witnesses from Liberia took the stand. They described executions, rapes, massacres and beatings of unprecedented violence. Even if their testimonies sometimes seemed imprecise, they constituted sufficiently tangible evidence in the eyes of the jurors.

A historical judgment

Six other trials of former rebel leaders from the Liberian civil wars have already taken place before that of “CO Kundi”. In 2019, in Philadelphia, Mohamed Jabbateh alias “Jungle Jabah” was convicted of perjury for trying to conceal his role as a commander in Ulimo when he applied for asylum in the United States. The American justice sentenced him to thirty years in prison. In Switzerland, Alieu Kosiah was tried in 2021. This relative of Kunti Kamara was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the murder of 19 people, the use of a 12-year-old child soldier and the repeated rape of a villager. . His appeal trial will be held in January.

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