By Anthony Stephens with New Narratives
Lawyers for Kunti Kamara, a Liberian war criminal who was convicted by a French court last week for his role in the country’s first civil war, have appealed his landmark judgment. It is a decision that may see the entire case being re-litigated.
Last week the Paris Appeal Court found Kamara, 47, guilty of all 11 counts in his indictment of crimes against humanity, torture, and barbarism. In a unanimous decision, the nine-person jury agreed with Kamara’s victims and state prosecutors that he committed the crimes in 1993 when he served as a commander for the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (Ulimo). The jury sentenced him to life in prison, which in France equals thirty years after which he will likely be expelled from Europe. The judge in the trial told Kamara he had ten days to appeal the verdict.
Throughout the trial, Kamara repeatedly denied the charges, but did admit that he was a commander with Ulimo in Foya at the time and had 80 men under his command. In a phone call from Paris Marilyne Secci, Kamara’s lead lawyer, said the basis of the appeal was the defense’s claim that Kamara was given an unfair trial based only on testimony from witnesses remembering events from 29-years ago and with no forensic evidence.
“We don’t agree with this decision,” said Secci of the verdict. “I think there’s no proof. My client said he was just a soldier and with no prove and lifetime sentence. That’s why for me, the decision is not correct.”
Secci maintained Kamara was found guilty in the minds of the jury before the trial began.
“He was already looked like somebody guilty before his trial because when you arrive at the court and you are accused of crimes against humanity, everyone looks at you as a criminal, even if there’s nothing on the file for you,” said Secci.
Secci defended Kamara’s slamming of witnesses as “criminals” and liars. She claimed that Kamara did not tell the trial that Ulimo committed no war crimes—a comment that was a major twist in the over three-week legal proceedings.
“Anything he said was used against him. He never said that Ulimo didn’t do anything in Foya, Lofa county. He said he didn’t see anything,”.
On appeal, a new court and a jury will hear the case in accordance with French law. It’s unclear when the appeal will take place. Under French law Kamara has the right to request his release until the appeal.
Sabrina Delattre, lawyer for the civil parties, said she was unmoved by Kamara’s appeal.
“It’s Kamara’s right to appeal,” said Delattre. “It’s just how it works in the French system. And for the victims, I know it can be a bit difficult to understand, but we will see how it goes.”
Delattre defended the credibility of her clients.
“The victims and the witnesses were heard and believed. Their testimonies were deemed valuable and were considered authentic. So, I do not see the contrary happening for the appeal.”
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.