Liberia: Lawyers for Former Rebel Commander Demand French Appeal Court to Acquit

PARIS, France – As the appeal of a former commander of the rebel group Ulimo, of his 2022 war crimes conviction enters its final days, defense lawyers for Kunti Kamara called on the three judge panel and nine jurors to overturn the conviction saying there is a lack of evidence Kamara committed the crimes.  

According to Kamara’s lawyers, his earlier sentence of life imprisonment should not be upheld because the evidence provided by prosecutors and civil parties is largely based on the unreliable testimonies of victims and witnesses from events that happened 30 years ago. Unlike in English/American based judicial systems including Liberia, where the prosecution must convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, prosecutors in the French system must convince the jurors that they have an innate belief that the defendant is guilty.

Unlike the English-based system where the jury needs to be “unanimous” – meaning juror must agree – for a conviction. The French system just needs a simple majority – 7 of the 12 judges and jurors must find him guilty.

The defense has tried to persuade the jury that they – an all white jury – cannot have enough confidence in the evidence to sentence a man to 30 years in prison only based on the testimonies of people remembering traumatic events from 30 years ago.

“I am asking you that Mr. Kamara should be acquitted after this hearing. I am asking you to acquit him because the proceeding is not rigorous,” Marilyn Secci, the lead defense lawyer for Kamara told the jury.  

Kamara’s lawyer Marilyn Secci

Secci cautioned the jury that they should not be carried away with sympathy for the extraordinary experiences described by the victims, urging them to base their verdict on evidence. 

She cited two rape incidents explained by two of the witnesses, arguing that prosecutors had not proved Kamara was the perpetrators of the rapes, but instead two other Ulimo commanders who are not in the defendant’s protective glass box with Kamara in the court.

Secchi said Kamara should not be held as an accomplice of the crimes of rape since he was not the one who raped the two women.

She argued that the two victims who testified did not say Kamara was the one who directly raped them, but instead another Ulimo commander who she claimed Kamara may have not had control. She also pointed out there there is no forensic evidence – no corpses or medical evidence – to prove what the victims were saying.   

Secci pointed to one witness who earlier testified before the court that six young men were killed by Kamara and other soldiers and their corpses were dumped into a well near the Foya Market. She argued the prosecutors did not provide forensic investigation to establish the corpses of the six victims alleged to have been dumped in the well were true.

In another plea on the charges of murder, Secci countered prosecution witnesses’ testimonies which she told the court were marred by inconsistencies. She was referring to the murder of a schoolteacher and a woman that witnesses had earlier claimed Kamara shot, and killed, and her corpse set ablaze being accused of her being a witch.

“We heard six witnesses who told this court that they were not on the scene at the time (the man) was killed, but all said that when (he) was killed, his heart was removed and that Kamara and other commanders ate (his) heart”, is not credible.”

About the looting of the generator from the Borma Hospital, Kamara’s lawyers also told the court that there was no research report to refer to that was done by the Swedish organization containing information about the looting of the looting of the hospital or that the generator was looted. They contended that there is also no evidence to link their client to the looting.

“We see many variations, we, therefore, call on this court to say to the declaration by (another witness) on the death of six men killed and thrown into a well,” Secci said. “We also want you to say no to an allegation of  the women’s murder, there is no death certificate or any evidence to link Kamara.”  

Secci told the court they find it difficult to understand how a court would apprehend their client when there is nothing that proves the argument of the presence of Kamara in the places told by witnesses.

Kamara in the earlier weeks of this appeal had told the court that he was not based in Foya, but instead on the frontline in Menikoma, where he said he was leading Ulimo fighters to push back the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels which had links with Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, (NPFL) fighters from taking over Foya.

However, almost all the prosecution witnesses, including two defense witnesses, had confirmed before the court that Kamara was based in Foya.

Following the defense lawyers’ presentation of their plea in favor of the accused, they then asked that the sentence of life of imprisonment handed down by the first jury in 2022, be rejected and Kamara be set free.

Referring to the Gibril Massaquoi acquittal by the Finnish court, who was acquitted following his war crimes conviction due to the lack of sufficient evidence provided by the prosecutor in Jaunary, Kamara’s defense lawyers pleaded with the court to do the same.

Gibril Massaquoi is a Sierra Leonean man who was accused of war crimes in Liberia.

“We cannot generalize what Ulimo did in Foya to what Mr. Kamara did,” Secci said. “We are not here in the trial of Ulimo, we are not here in the trial of all the crimes that were committed in Liberia, but we are here in the trial of one man- Kunti Kamara,” Secchi told the Tuesday.  

The trial continues Wednesday with the jury deliberation.

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