Liberia: Victims Tell French Appeal Trial of Cannibalism, Rape and Torture by Ulimo

Kamara denies accusations made by victims in his 2022 trial. Credit: Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives

PARIS, France – The first Liberian victims, who are part of the case against convicted war criminal Kunti Kamara, testified today in Kamara’s appeal of his 2022 conviction. Last week the witnesses were made up of experts, journalists and investigators, designed to give the jury – made up of three judges and nine French civilians – context they need to understand the chaos of Lofa County during the war in 1993.

Now the court will hear from the victims directly. The first woman, who came from Lofa to testify in both trials, was the wife of a schoolteacher who was tortured and murdered by Ulimo in 1993. The witness gave the court disturbing testimony about her husband’s murder and the kidnapping and rape of her 13-year-old daughter by Ulimo. She said that she and her husband and six children were hiding in the bush, like thousands of families from the town of Foya, after the Ulimo rebels had taken the town from the rebels of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL) which had terrorized the area for more than a year.

The witness said her husband volunteered to go into the town to find food. When he didn’t come back after a few days, she went out herself leaving her children alone. A few days later when their mother did not return, the eldest daughter, 13, went out to look for food and was kidnapped by Ulimo. The woman later heard that her husband was tortured, murdered and his body parts eaten, and the daughter was gang raped.

“They cut here,” she said pointing to her upper leg and her upper arm, “and they put it in the pan. Then they open the chest. They take whatsoever they want, they put it in the pan, and they eat it.”

Later in the day another witness said he was with the schoolteacher husband when he died. He said the schoolteacher had translated for visiting “white people” from an international NGO telling them that Ulimo had destroyed the hospital. He said Ulimo later detained the schoolteacher in retaliation for telling the NGOs they were responsible. (The names of all witnesses are being withheld to protect them from credible fears of retaliation.)

The man, one of eight Liberian “civil parties” in the case testified that he had witnessed the torture and murder of the schoolteacher at the hands of a Kamara underling named “Ugly Boy”.

“[He] was no longer a normal person because of the tension he was under,” the witness told the trial of the schoolteacher. The schoolteacher had been held in the torture known as “tarbay” – with his elbows tied behind his back, for three days. Then, “all of them beat on him, so much, everywhere. I remember then, Ugly Boy hit on him with the axe and he pulled out his organs. You would not believe it. I don’t know if they were ritually acting but this man’s heart was pulled out. Ugly Boy got his heart out.”

The witness said the rebels then danced around jubilantly. “Celebrating as if the heart that they pulled out of that man was of no value,” he told the court. Then took the heart to an area outside, cut it into pieces. “That was my first time seeing a human being eating another.”

He listed the rebel leaders he saw eating the heart. He named Kamara – known as “CO. Kundi” and others known as Ugly Boy, Mami Wata, Alieu Kosiah – convicted of war crimes in Switzerland – and others. He said they did it front of the crowd to instill terror in the whole district. He said, as a result, “fear grew up all over.” He told the court of seeing check points made of human intestines and gates guarded by severed human heads, including that of his own relative. “Ugly Boy was one of the most terrible and dangerous people in Foya because he went everywhere with an axe.”

In a dramatic moment the wife of the dead schoolteacher was asked what she expected from the trial.

“I expect for him to say he did it,” the witness told the court.

When given the chance to ask Kamara a question, the victim refused to look at him and asked: “What did my husband do to you that you killed him?”

But she was disappointed.

“I am totally in shock because I have no experience about what all these people are complaining about,” said Kamara. “I don’t know them. I’m totally innocent.”

Kamara answers questions from the court through a translator in 2022.

When asked if he had heard of people taking out hearts of victims and eating them, Kamara did not answer directly.

“Liberia war was anarchy war,” Kamara said. “So many things happened. I cannot prove anything I did not see. I have no experience about that.”

The witness told the court that people took her to what they said was her husband’s grave and they held a memorial for him. With the help of the Red Cross she found her daughter but she said life had been extremely difficult since the death of her husband, the breadwinner of the family.

“He loved me, he provided everything for me,” she said, becoming emotional. “If I see how my children are suffering. They were not able to go to school. They not used to me because I sent them elsewhere. They suffer. If their father were living, the family would all be together.”

The judge asked her if she had heard of other atrocities committed by Ulimo. The witness told them that she had heard of people being thrown into boiling water. She named the commander who had ordered that as Ulimo rebel named Saar Chouie – a Kissi name for Ugly Boy. (Ugly Boy died during the war.)

Kamara, who is 49 according to the birth date he gave to Dutch authorities when he claimed asylum in 2001, has admitted to being a frontline combatant with Ulimo but denies he took part in atrocities against civilians. Today he rocked back and forth in his glass box – put in place to protect him from attacks and prevent him from interacting with the court or victims – during the testimony.

The woman’s daughter, who had been kidnapped at 13, also appeared as a witness. A small, quiet figure dressed for the cold, she told the jury that when she was kidnapped by Ulimo, she was raped by three rebels.

One had a gun to her head. Another held her foot. “When one finished the other would come. That’s how it went,” she said quietly.

After the rape she couldn’t find her family. She made her way to Guinea and then Sierra Leone and, through the Red Cross, she was eventually reunited with her mother. That’s when she heard what had happened to her father. “I have not been able to live in Foya again.”

The rape victim said she had been trying to get treatment for physical injuries but “it has never stopped”. She has not been able to bear children. Doctors told her it is because of the rape. “No solution,” she told the court. She said had never told her husband about the rape because of the shame she felt. She said had only ever talked about it in the court in Paris in this appeal and in the original trial.

“What do you expect from this trial?” the judge asked.

“I need justice,” she said.

The jury was intensely engaged in all the testimony of all three. Many had pained looks on their faces as they heard the stories of graphic violence. The trial continues Tuesday.

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