Liberia: French Court of Appeal upholds Guilty Verdict for Liberian Warlord

Kunti Kamara inside a protective glass box as a translator translates to him during his 2022 trial

PARIS, France – An appeal court here has upheld the 2022 conviction of Kunti Kamara, a former commander of the Ulimo rebel group, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Lofa County during Liberia’s first civil war.

The court, of three judges and nine jurors, delivered the final verdict Wednesday evening following more than eight hours of deliberations. In the French judicial system the jury needed to have an innate belief in Kamara’s guilt to convict. A simple majority of jurors – seven of the 12 – needed to find him guilty for conviction.

Announcing the final verdict, the presiding judge, Jean Marc Lavergne, said Kamara has five days to lodge an appeal against the decision. The court upheld Kamara’s earlier sentence of 30 years prison. Following the verdict, the civil parties asked for 1 euro each in moral damages, as a symbolic gesture. The Court granted the request.

In a protective glass box, where he had sat throughout the hearing, Kamara looked dejected as the judge read out the jury decision, closing the chapter to his appeal.  Judge Lavergne asked Kamara if he had a reaction. Kamara responded, “No, I don’t have anything else to say.” Soon afterwards he was handcuffed and led back into the holding area of the court complex to resume his sentence.

The appeal court found Kamara guilty of rape and sexual slavery committed by his subordinates; subjecting a man to severe suffering and participating in the public eating of his heart; executing a sick woman who had just lost her baby, because she was accused of witchcraft; subjecting two men to forced labor in inhumane conditions; and torturing a civilian. The crimes were found to have happened between 1993 and 1994 during the First Liberian Civil War.

A Liberian plaintiff testifies before the Appeal Court

Throughout the four weeks of the appeal hearing, the court heard from 22 witnesses, nine civil parties, and five experts including psychologists and a psychiatrist. All of the witnesses who testified in the earlier trial in 2022 which sentenced Kamara to life imprisonment, traveled from Liberia again to testify in the appeal, except for one witness who died shortly after his return to Liberia in 2022. It also heard from contextual witnesses including former Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairs John Stewart and Massa Washington, war photographer Patrick Robert and documentarist Christophe Naigeon. Mr Kamara’s former ally, Alieu Kosiah, also came to testify. He was convicted on appeal in Switzerland to 20 years imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for his involvement in some of the same acts for which Kamara has been found guilty.

Civitas Maxima, the Swiss justice activists, which were also a civil party in this case, filed the criminal complaint in July 2018 that started the proceedings in France where Kamara was residing after securing Dutch citizenship.
This was a historic case for both France and Liberia. For France, the Kamara case was the first universal jurisdiction trial not linked to the Rwandan genocide, and with the defendant present. It was only the fifth trial of this type to take place in France. For Liberia, this verdict confirms the first ever conviction for crimes against humanity linked to the Liberian civil conflicts.
In a statement Civitas Maxima said, “the conviction for complicity in crimes against humanity is particularly meaningful – Mr Kamara was found guilty to have, knowingly, facilitated the preparation or commission by his soldiers of such torture or inhumane acts, including rape and sexual abuses.”
Because of the historical relevance of the case, both the first instance proceedings and the appeal were recorded, and added to the French audiovisual archives of justice.

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