By Prue Clarke
PARIS, France – The trial of Kunti Kamara for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Paris took a dramatic turn late Friday as the presiding judge in the trial asked a witness if the man he had described committing multiple atrocities, including killing four members of the victim’s family, was in the court.
“Yes,” said the victim turning to look directly at Kamara who was in a protective glass box. “That is him.”
The victim was standing less than 10 feet from Kamara who was also asked to stand. Neither man betrayed what must have been deep turmoil at, what the victim alleges, is their first meeting since 1993 when the two met in very different circumstances.
The last time the two allegedly met in Foya, Lofa County, Kamara had the power to take the victim’s life at any minute he said. The victim told the court Kamara had taken the his brother’s life by shooting him in the head as the victim and two of their brothers stood beside him. Kamara had also presided over his sister’s death when a rebel under his command had her baby torn from her back before she was slashed to death.
Judge Thierry Fusina, the Court President, asked the victim five times if he was sure Kamara, now 48, was the man responsible.
The victim did not waver. “No doubt whatsoever that is him.”
Kamara, who was not allowed to respond immediately, looked straight at his accuser with an expression of bemusement.
Sabrina Delattre, lawyer for the civil parties representing the victims at the trial, asked the victim if he had anything to say to Kamara.
“Kunti, for whatever you did in Foya, this is the time for justice in order for the minds of the people to rest.”
The moment was poignant for justice activists and journalists who have covered the four trials of Liberians and a Sierra Leonean on charges related to the Liberian wars. Among them was John Stewart, the former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, who was in the court. It was the first time that a Liberian victim was given the chance to address an accused perpetrator directly.
Outside the court the victim said he felt tremendous relief. He said he had been given notice that he might have the chance to address Kamara directly and prepared his statement with the four members of his family and many others killed and maimed in his community in mind.
In another riveting moment Kamara was given a chance to respond to the allegations that had been made by four alleged victims throughout the day. The Paris Court, in the latest of a long list of unusual protocols that has surprised court watchers, will invite Kamara to respond to allegations at the end of each day.
Kamara has previously admitted that he was a member of Ulimo but today he conceded that he had been in Lofa during the events described by the victim. Kamara also said he had been one of the Ulimo rebels who searched for the Lofa chief Tamba Taylor who, he claimed, was hiding in the bush with an NPFL commander named General Fayiah and 500 civilians the general was using as a “human shield”. Kamara denied the victim’s accusation that he was in charge.
“I was one of the group that brought him to Foya but I was not the one who was responsible.”Kunti Kamara
Earlier in the day a woman described the murder of her husband, a schoolteacher, allegedly by a Ulimo commander named “Ugly Boy” at the direction of Kamara. After Ulimo destroyed a church and a school in the area, a humanitarian organization including Europeans had visited the town. The schoolteacher translated for the organization and told them Kamara and Ulimo had destroyed the buildings.
In retaliation Kamara is alleged to have imprisoned the teacher for several days tying his elbows behind his back in the Tabe torture method, before ordering Ugly Boy to kill him by chopping open his rib cage. Kamara ordered them to cook his heart and eat it.
None of the witnesses had seen the killing directly but the man’s brother-in-law testified that he buried the teacher’s body some days later and his rib cage had been chopped open. The mother and, later, her daughter described the hardship they had all suffered in the year’s since the schoolteacher’s death.
“He loved me,” the schoolteacher’s wife wept as she described how tired she was after carrying the burden of being a single parent for the thirty years since. She also said she was tired of “talking to white people” about the murder and never seeing any outcome from it.
After Ulimo left the town many villagers fled to refuge in Guinea. The school teacher’s daughter testified that she had been “10 to 12” at the time, and had lost her mother and siblings in the exodus. Alone, at a checkpoint, she said she had been gang-raped. It was many years before she was reunited with her mother in a Sierra Leonean refugee camp.
She too asked rhetorically why she should testify again.
“Why should I explain my story? Because nothing will happen. My father will not come back to life. He already died for saying the truth,” she said wearing a blanket over her lappa and socks under her flip flops to protect her from the Paris cold.
“The only thing I want is if these people will help by giving us justice,”alleged victim of Kunti Kamara
“For what happened in Foya, I never heard about it. What happened in other parts but not in Foya. Someone living, they cut people in pieces while you’re standing. They put you in boiling water. They ask you to put your hand down. While you’re standing they cut it while you’re standing looking at it,” she said running through many of the horrors that marked the war. “I don’t want that kind of war to happen again,” she said. “I know the pain I went through after the death of my father. I don’t want others to go through it.”
Kunti Kamara’s trial continues on Monday with more witnesses scheduled to testify about the murder of the schoolteacher.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.