First trial in France on crimes against humanity committed in Liberia
Acts of barbarism, rape, summary executions: for the first time, a French assize court will judge, from Monday, crimes against humanity committed in the 90s during the civil war in Liberia, where these abuses have not been the subject of any trial.
In the box, in Paris, will take place a commander of one of the rebel groups having prevailed in this small country of West Africa. 47-year-old Kunti Kamara is accused of having himself perpetrated or supervised “inhumane acts”, ranging from forced labor to murder accompanied by cannibalism, in Lofa County (northwest) between 1993 and 1994. He disputes the facts.
Arrested in 2018 in Bobigny, near Paris, Mr. Kamara will appear more than 6,000 kilometers from his native Liberia under France's “universal jurisdiction” which allows him to try the most serious crimes wherever they have been. committed, as soon as the suspect is arrested on its territory.
Hailed by NGOs as an “important step” against impunity, this trial will plunge into the first of the two civil wars in Liberia (1989-1996), which claimed 250,000 lives and are among the most atrocious conflicts on the African continent.
“Liberia is a country where there is still total impunity for these crimes. This trial is therefore very important to bring the voice of the victims to the fore, ”explained to AFP Me Sabrina Delattre, who represents several Liberians and the association Civitas Maximas, at the origin of the case.
< p> After collecting testimonies from victims, this NGO filed a complaint against Kunti Kamara in July 2018 in France, where he had been living for two years, leading to the appointment of an investigating judge from the Parisian center in charge of crimes against humanity.
His investigation led him to go twice to Lofa County where the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Ulimo) raged, of which Mr. Kamara was a “battlefield commander”, a warlord. This rebel group was notably battling the faction of Charles Taylor, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence in the United Kingdom for crimes against humanity in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Known to the victims under the alias “CO Kundi”, Kunti Kamara was complicit in a “massive and systematic practice of inhumane acts” perpetrated against the civilian population and inspired “both by political and ethnic motives”, according to the indictment.
He would have subjected one of his victims to the ordeal of “Tabé”, which consists of tying elbows and wrists behind the back sometimes until death , before cutting out his heart and eating it.
Mr. Kamara is also said to have “deliberately tolerated” the gang rapes of two young women, one of whom filed a civil action.
“Kunti Kamara disputes the facts. He said he had been an Ulimo soldier but always denied having committed abuses against civilians,” one of his lawyers, Marlyne Secci, told AFP, adding that his client “approaches this trial as someone who is going to be judged in a country that is not his own”.
This will be one of the challenges of this trial, filmed to constitute archives: to allow a popular jury, assisted by three magistrates, to judge the facts committed thirty years ago in a conflict with complex roots. To shed light on them, Liberian victims, an expert and a photographer present in Liberia during the conflict will take part in the debates, scheduled until November 4.
“We will all have to be well careful that the jurors fully understand the historical, cultural and political context of this conflict”, observed Mr. Secci.
France, whose “universal jurisdiction” is currently the subject of a legal battle, is not the first country to try crimes in Liberia. In June 2021, the Swiss justice sentenced the ex-commander of Ulimo Alieu Kosiah to 20 years in prison while another executive of this group, Mohammed Jabateh, is serving 30 years in prison in the United States for perjury.
“The victims, who are still very traumatized, need this justice, underlined Me Delattre, but they fear pressure from former rebels whose networks remain very powerful in Liberia”. < /p>