Former “War Wife” and Conscript Accuse Liberian Rebel Commander of Murder, Torture, Rape and Cannibalism in French War Crimes Appeal

Kamara testifies in his 2022 trial. Credit: Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives

PARIS, France – The first victim to testify that he had served as a rebel under Ulimo commander Kunti Kamara appeared in Kamara’s appeal of his 2022 conviction for war crimes here on Friday. The victim said after weeks of torture, threats and forced labor by Ulimo after the rebel group invaded Lofa County in Liberia in 1993, he followed the advice of his uncle to join Ulimo in order to put an end to the harassment of himself and to help his family.

Detailing the suffering he said he endured at the hands of Kamara and other Ulimo commanders before he joined Ulimo, the witness talked about a day other witnesses have described as “Black Friday”. He said he was with six other young men who were captured by Ulimo rebels, separated from other civilians and accused of having links with rival rebel faction the National Patriotic Front of Liberia headed by Charles Taylor.

The victim took off his sweater and shirt to display his back and hands to the court, showing the scars he said he received after being stabbed by either Kamara or his former ally, Alieu Kosiah. The victim said the two Ulimo commanders were behind him and he was not sure which of them inflicted the wound.

“They tabay us,” he said referring to the form of torture routinely used in the Liberian war where elbows are tied behind the victim’s back, “and started dragging me because they say I was talking too much. For me, I kept talking because I knew I was not a rebel. All the other men, including my cousin, were not talking. Me, I knew I could either live or die and so my mouth was sharp. Then they stabbed me in my back.”

The victim’s testimony dominated day nine of Kamara’s appeal of his 2022 conviction here for 11 counts including murders of civilians, rape, torture, cannibalism and forced labor. Kamara is serving a 30-year sentence for his crimes. Kamara received asylum in the Netherlands and moved to France in 2015 when Alieu Kosiah gave European investigators his name. Kamara tried to escape the investigation by moving to France and then was arrested while planning an escape to Guinea. Kosiah was convicted of many of the same crimes in a Swiss court in 2021. He is serving a 20-year sentence and appeared as a witness in Kamara’s trial on Thursday.

Kamara is hoping this new court, with three new judges, and nine new jurors, will come to a different conclusion than the court that found him guilty to the French burden “an inate belief” that he is responsible for the crimes. A simple majority or jurors needs to find him guilty for his conviction to be upheld.

One of the civil parties accusing Kosiah of crimes testifies through a translator.

n Friday, the witness who said he was forced to become a fighter testified that Kosiah, gave the order that he be dragged. He said that Kamara ranked below Kosiah among the leaders. “Co-Dayku” who was in charge in Lofa, was the highest of the three he said.

Dayku arrived after the torture began and said the victim should not be killed. The other six captives – including the witness’s brother and cousin – were killed and their corpses were dumped into a well in the Foya Market. After a few days the residents discovered the bodies when an army of flies came out of the well.

The victim, whose identity is being withheld to protect him from credible threats of retaliation, said there was no medical help available because Ulimo had looted and destroyed the hospital in the city. 

The witness told the court that while his wound was still healing he was made to carry looted items to the Guinea border where Uimo sold them. The man’s testimony backed the testimonies of other victims who said they were forced to carry heavy bags – in his case, of cocoa – on his head for the 23 kilometre trek, without eating or drinking. Ulimo threatened to kill anyone who could not keep up.

“Beating civilians when they were carrying those looted things to the border was a normal thing, but for me because I never wanted to be beaten I use to walk,” the witness said.

The victim testified that he later joined Ulimo in an effort to help his family and end the violence and threats from Ulimo.

Marilyn Secci, Kamara’s defense lawyer, read a contradictory statement that the victim had made to an investigating judge who first heard the victim’s testimony in Liberia in 2019. In that case the victim had said that he joined Ulimo because Kamara had said he would kill the victim if he did not join. The witness did not say that Kamara had forced him to join in his testimony today. Secci has sought to point out inconsistencies in victims testimonies in an effort to undermine the jury’s confidence in them.

In response, the victim said that the discrepancies came because of his own limited ability to speak clear English and an incorrect interpretation of his words. The lawyer for civil parties has described the discrepancies as evidence that the witnesses have not been coached and are struggling to clearly remember precise details of events that happened 30 years ago.

Like many of the victims who have testified in this trial the man had a simple answer when the judge asked him what he hoped to get from testifying in this trial.

“I want justice,” he said.

Late in the day a woman testified that she had been forced to be a “war wife” to four Ulimo fighters in Foya. She said Ulimo had killed her mother and father. They killed her sister and her husband. She knew she would be killed if she did not do what they say. She was raped repeatedly, as were three friends who were also taken as wives.

“You will not say no,” said the woman. “Either they kill you or you do what they say. You do anything they want you to do.”

Dressed in warm winter hat and jacket throughout the testimony, she spoke haltingly. She said she saw Kamara and Kosiah often in the town. She said she saw the wheelbarrows that other witnesses have talked about, where a Kamara lieutenant known as “Ugly Boy” chopped up human bodies and put them in the wheelbarrow and forced her and other people to buy the meat, cook it and eat it.

“If you not do it they will kill you.”

She testified that she witnessed “Black Friday” and the murder of six men by Kamara and Kosiah with knives that was described by the earlier witness. She confirmed the witness was stabbed and was the only one left alive. She could not say which one of the two had stabbed the man.

She told the court that she is still traumatized by what happened in the war. “Sometimes I cry!”

Presiding judge Jean Marc Lavergne asked the woman to stand up and look at the man in the protective glass case and identify him as the “Co Kundi” – Kamara’s war name – that she had seen committing atrocities in Foya.

She looked directly at Kamara and said, “that’s Kundi”.

The trial continues on Monday when the court will hear from another Ulimo rebel and two more witnesses. The trial will end on March 29.

This story is a collaboration with FrontPage Africa as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.