Liberia: Former Rebel Lashes Out at Accusers in Appeal of French War Crimes Conviction

The Paris Palace of Justice, hosting Kunti Kamara’s appeal of his 2022 war crimes conviction

PARIS, France – Convicted war criminal Kunti Kamara lashed out at the plaintiffs and witnesses who have testified him here in week two of his appeal of his 2022 conviction for crimes against humanity.

Kamara, who was convicted of 11 counts of atrocities committed in Lofa County as a commander of the Ulimo rebel group including rape, cannibalism, torture, murder and forced labor, claimed he didn’t know any of the witnesses.

“I don’t know them. I’m shocked sometimes when they’re talking,” he said angrily in an impassioned tirade. “I have nothing to say to these persons. I had nothing to do with it. I have no experience. I was not a commander in Foya. I was based on the frontline. They used to call me ‘BFC’ meaning someone who is based on the frontline.”

In the first trial Kamara claimed that the witnesses were lying and were part of a conspiracy against him and the Mandingo people. He was less forceful in that accusation today but said he had been told by a man – he did not name – from Liberia that the people testifying against him are coming to Paris “for special interest”.

“That’s why I say I don’t have any evidence,” he said. “But I’m always hearing that they have interest. Maybe money has been given to them to come and lie on me. I don’t know them. I cannot fool you people. You can judge for yourself whether I’m the lying or they are the liar.”

Kamara then undermined his argument by claiming he knew nothing of atrocities committed by Ulimo in Lofa in 1993 and 1994. The jury that has been hearing for 10 to 12 hour a day of atrocities in Lofa, including in reports from organizations such as the Red Cross and Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, may find it impossible to believe that a Ulimo fighter, would not have known of the massive depravity and violence committed by Ulimo in the county.

Kamara, who is 49 according to the date of birth he gave to Dutch authorities when he claimed asylum in 2001, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the maximum in the French judicial system. Kamara is appealing that conviction.

Kamara in a Facebook post

Presiding Judge Jean Marc Lavergne asked Kamara to tell the court about his experience in Nimba when Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia invaded the county on Christmas Day 1989. Kamara told the court NPFL killed seven members of his family including his mother. He claimed the NPFL were chasing people from his Mandingo tribe. Kamara said he and his sister escaped across the border where she was forced into prostitution to provide for them both. 

Kamara said he was tailoring clothes and selling them in the market when he met Alhaji Kromah, the head of Ulimo. He would not or could not give his age but said “he was not mature”. He said after training of one to three months he and some young friends banded together to go and fight in Liberia because things were difficult in Guinea.

Prior to Kamara’s testimony, an eighth witness, a man from Foya in his 50s, added to the long list of atrocities that witnesses have accused Kamra and Ulimo of committing in Foya. The man testified that he was one of 50 men who Ulimo forced to carry the county referral hospital’s generator 23 kilometers to the border with Guinea where Ulimo rebels sold the parts for money and food.

The man told the court he was detained by Ulimo rebels and taken to the Borma Hospital where he saw Kamara busy with tools dismantling the generator. The man said he was then forced to load the generator and other equipment into a trailer. He said he and the other men were forced to push the trailer and carry loads, estimated by prosecutors to weigh 60 to 70 kilograms, at the direction of a corps of rebel troops heading by Kamara, including Ugly Boy, a rebel who has been widely described in this trial and was later killed, and another called Sunday Gar. The witness said there were several child soldiers. 

A Liberian witness testifies before the Court of Appeal with translator

The rebels were in a rush. The witness said the march took the group almost 24 hours non-stop and they arrived at the border in the morning. The men who had not escaped, got no time to rest. They received no food or water. They were then forced to immediately turn around and march back to Foya carrying salt, rice and other food, “because Co Kundi was having a lot of wife in Liberia,” the man said.

It was the rainy season. The road was very bad. The men were struggling and complained that they were about to collapse from exhaustion. The man said Kamara threatened him, telling him he was a lazy man. Kamara said if he didn’t walk he would cut out his heart and eat it. The men were forced to sing as they went, “If you tire we kill you”.

The man testified that besides the march, he had seen the bodies of two friends of his that he heard Kamara had tortured and killed. He said it appeared to him that Kamara and other rebels had poured boiling water or oil into the mouths of the deceased men and used a cutlass to carve their names into the men’s bodies. The stomachs had been cut and the intestines were spilling out.

The next day he said he also witnessed the “Black Monday”, described by an earlier witness, when 16 men were interrogated and then slaughtered because Ulimo claimed they had been fighting with the NPFL, which Ulimo had driven from Lofa.

He said he had heard of many women being raped and of rebels eating human body parts. “The majority of people were saying that the rebels ate human body. They even cook and eat it with cassava. Even their wives were saying that.” Another time, “people were running and saying they were seeing the human meat in the wheelbarrow and selling it. Yes, I don’t see it but it happened.”

Judge Jean Marc Lavergne, president of the court

Presiding Judge Jean Marc Lavergne asked the witness if he recognized Kamara as the man in the protective glass box in the courtroom. He confirmed that he did, just as he did in Kamara’s original trial.

The lawyer for the civil party sought to address the defense’s claim that Kamara was only 15 years old when the crimes took place. She asked the witness how old he thought Kamara was at the time. The witness did not give her the certainty she sought saying only that he could not guess Kamara’s age at the time, only that he was a “young man.”

Like several other witnesses he thanked the court for bringing them justice.

“We are thanking god for the government of Paris,” he said. “Because of these trials people know if they bring war they will face trial.” The judge asked him if he was afraid. He said he was. “Because those guys are still in Foya, I afraid too much.” He asked the court to provide him with money to leave Liberia for his security.

The trial continues Thursday with the appearance of Alieu Kosiah, Kamara’s Ulimo ally, who was convicted of war crimes in Switzerland in 2021 and is serving a 20-year sentence there.   

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