Former Liberian rebel accused of war crimes awaits trial in Paris | Liberia

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A former Liberian rebel commander will stand trial in Paris on Monday for acts of barbarism including torture, cannibalism, forced labor and complicity in crimes against humanity during the country’s first civil war more than 25 years ago.

This is the first trial in France of a non-Rwandan suspect accused of wartime atrocities since the creation of the special tribunal for crimes against humanity in Paris in 2012.

Kunti Kamara, known as Kunti K, a naturalized Dutch citizen, was the head of a rebel militia unit in the north of the West African country which was ravaged by two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 in which around 250,000 people died.

The alleged war crimes took place during the First Liberian Civil War, between 1989 and 1996, in Lofa County, a strategic region in northwestern Liberia.

Kamara is accused by witnesses of having enslaved the population of the village of Foya and of having committed “particularly atrocious acts of torture”. In one such act, Kamara reportedly ordered his troops to open a victim’s body with an ax and remove the heart, which was then eaten.

He is also accused of being an accomplice to “crimes against humanity” in, according to the indictment, “a massive and systematic practice of torture or inhumane acts”.

Kamara’s lawyer, Tarek Koraitem, told the Guardian his client has denied all charges.

” It is a scandal. Here we have a case in which we are trying, decades after the events, an obscure soldier from a Liberian rebel faction accused of heinous crimes on evidence that does not exist in a country that has no connection to Liberia,” Koraitem said. .

“It’s not justice, it’s a theater show. Everybody [of the charges] it’s wrong. He denies everything. He had a few men under his control on the front line during the Civil War. He’s not responsible for anything.”

Kamara was first arrested in France in 2018, then released due to a procedural flaw but indicted. He was arrested again in 2020 as he tried to leave the country.

The case was brought in France under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows certain countries to claim criminal jurisdiction over a defendant for globally recognized crimes, regardless of where they were committed, nationality or the country of residence of the accused. Article 689 of France’s criminal procedure code states that alleged crimes – namely torture, terrorism, nuclear smuggling, naval piracy and aircraft hijacking – can be tried in France even if they were committed outside French territory by foreigners.

Kamara, 47, born in Liberia in December 1974, admitted to being a local commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (Ulimo), one of three rebel militias opposed to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in Charles Taylor during the First Liberian Civil War. Taylor became president in 1997 and remained in office until 2003.

Photographer Patrick Robert, who has worked in Liberia and is a witness at the trial, told investigators he saw human organs, mostly hearts, taken from bodies and eaten during the conflict, but could not specify that it had been made by Ulimo forces. Soldiers on both sides were accused of torture, massacres and rape, often committed under the influence of drugs.

Kamara told French investigators he was leading a group of Ulimo fighters, but insisted he had not committed any of the crimes he is accused of. He told the investigating judge that the charges were based on “political jealousy” constituted by “Liberian criminals who got together to lie because what they want is to come to Europe”.

In 2019, French and Liberian investigators conducted a fact-finding mission in northwestern Liberia. Investigators have spoken to dozens of Liberians, many of whom have identified Kamara and linked him to war crimes. Kamara moved to France in 2016 from the Netherlands, where he trained and worked as an electrician and obtained citizenship.

Lawyer Sabrina Delattre, who represents some of Kamara’s alleged victims and the Swiss NGO Civitas Maxima, which documents international crimes and is a civil party to the trial, told the Guardian the trial would give those who suffered “a voice “.

“Victims have huge expectations. In Liberia, crimes were committed during the civil war that ravaged the country and have never been investigated. Even a number of former warlords have never been tried. There was total immunity,” she said.

“It is important that victims have a voice. This would not be possible in Liberia. Even after 30 years, people are still very traumatized. Women raped, women reduced to slavery, women treated as commodities and not as people, victims of torture. It is still very difficult for them to rebuild their lives.

Alain Werner, a human rights lawyer and director of Civitas Maxima, said the trial showed there was legal recourse for victims of long-forgotten conflicts.

“Liberia is a forgotten country; many people don’t even know where it is and Lofa is a hidden country within the hidden country, hundreds of kilometers from the capital Monrovia. Even in Liberia, people know little about Lofa. This trial shows that even with hidden crimes in a hidden country, there is no hiding place,” he said.

“This is an important case because it brings to light again a vicious and cruel civil war where the victims of crimes were overwhelmingly the civilian population.

“It is important that everyone in the world understands that if you are the victim of a crime against humanity or of genocide, even if the UN will do nothing, even if your country will do nothing, you can always get justice. Something can be done.

The trial begins on Monday October 10 and is due to continue until November 4.

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