French Court sentences former commander of ULIMO, Kunti Kamara, to life

About the author(s):

Begümhan I. Simsir is a policy and research intern at the IFRC. She holds an LL.M. in IHL and human rights from the Geneva Academy. Her LL.M. thesis focused on the protection of wounded and sick hors de combat with a focus on mental health. She graduated from the Turkish German University Law School with a thesis focused on the protection of girl soldiers during and after armed conflicts. She has worked with various organizations, including Human Rights Measurement Initiative, Generation Human Rights, UNESCO, Airwars and the International Review of the Red Cross.

On the 2nd of November, after almost four weeks of trial, Paris Cour d’assisses found Mr Kunti Kamara guilty of crimes against humanity and several other crimes.

Mr Kamara, 48, is a former member and regional commander of the rebel group United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), which was active during Liberia’s first civil war. He was arrested in France in 2018 and has been on trial since the 10th of October. At the end of his trial, the Court found him guilty as an accomplice for crimes against humanity and as a perpetrator of torture committed in Lofa country from 1993 to 1994. His crimes were listed as failure to prevent his subordinates from committing the crimes of rape and sexual slavery, subjecting a teacher to severe suffering and publicly eating his heart, executing a woman accused of witchcraft, and subjecting civilians to forced labour under inhumane conditions and torturing civilians.

During the trial, 27 witnesses and 10 civil parties took the stand in front of the Court. The trial was mainly based on the words of the witnesses, which was criticized by the defence, Maryline Secci, who said, “Sometimes the accusation is based on only one direct witness.” Prosecutor Claire Thouault, in her closing remarks, also mentioned the issue, “Testimony is not inferior to evidence.” She also added how testimonial evidence is almost always the basis of trials of major international crimes, which usually occur several decades after the events took place.

The defence also commented on the qualification of rape and sexual slavery in Lofa under “acts of torture constituting crimes against humanity”, as in 1994, rape was not considered to constitute a crime against humanity. This qualification and Mr Kamara’s conviction on them are of particular significance in the context of Liberia, as this judgement is the first time that the systematic nature of sexual violence committed during the first Liberian civil war was recognized and condemned.

This trial brings several firsts for both French and Liberian judicial histories. The life imprisonment of Mr Kamara is the first conviction for crimes against humanity connected to the civil wars in Liberia. It also is the first trial for international crimes committed in a non-French territory, except for the ones connected to the Rwandan genocide.

In addition to the prison sentence, the Court also granted 1 Euro for moral damages to the civil parties, who asked for it as a symbolic gesture.

This information is taken from the press release circulated here.

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