[10/10/2022] Day 1 : The trial begins
The hearing began at 2.30 pm. The three interpreters were sworn in. The Presiding judge invited the accused, Mr. Kunti Kamara, to introduce himself (civil status, profession, domicile). He is represented by two lawyers: Mr. Secci and Mr. Koraitem. The Presiding judge reminded the accused of his right to make statements useful to his defence, and that he has the right to answer questions, or remain silent. The jurors were then selected, after the Presiding judge ensured that there were no incompatibilities (family or emotional ties between them and the accused, his defense, or the assessor judges); the jurors also took an oath. The judges then granted provisional legal aid to both the civil parties and the defense lawyers for Mr. Kunti Kamara.
The Presiding judge then stated that the proceedings would be recorded, as requested by the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (in French: Parquet National Anti-Terroriste, PNAT) and authorized by the Presiding judge of the Assize Court. He then proceeded to call the witnesses and experts who will be heard during the proceedings, recalling for each of them the date and time of their appearance. Some of them will be heard by videolink, given the logistical difficulties for some people to travel to Paris. The Presiding judge also indicated that the Swiss authorities still had to get back to them regarding hearing Alieu Kosiah either in person or via videolink. The Presiding judge further indicated that Witness AT, currently a refugee in Switzerland, did not wish to testify before the Court for security reasons.
The Presiding judge then summarized the indictment issued by the Investigating Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal on April 1, 2021, which outlines the main elements of the investigation against Mr. Kunti Kamara. The Presiding judge began by briefly recalling some of the background of the first civil war in Liberia (1989-1997) before discussing the history of the proceedings against Mr. Kunti Kamara.
He said that a complaint against Mr. Kunti Kamara had been filed on July 23, 2018 by the non-governmental organization Civitas Maxima in connection with the numerous abuses (acts of torture, murder, cannibalism, enslavement of entire villages, use of child soldiers) – constituting crimes against humanity – that he allegedly committed in Lofa County between 1993 and 1997.
The Presiding judge also recalled that the French authorities had received a request for international mutual criminal assistance issued in July 2018 by the Swiss authorities in order to hear Mr. Kunti Kamara in the proceedings against Mr. Alieu Kosiah, tried for war crimes.
The Presiding judge then recalled that a preliminary investigation had been opened by the Paris Prosecutor, who had entrusted it to the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity (in French: Office central de lutte contre les crimes contre l’humanité et les crimes de haine, OCLCH). This investigation led to the arrest of Mr. Kunti Kamara as he was attempting to flee to Guinea.
On September 6, 2018, the investigating judges of the “crimes against humanity and war crimes and misdemeanours” division of the Paris TGI (High Court of Justice) indicted Mr. Kunti Kamara on charges of aggravated acts of torture and acts of barbarism and crimes against humanity. The Presiding judge stated that the investigation that followed was long and thorough, both in France and in the Netherlands (through European investigations) and in Liberia (through subsequent letters rogatory). The evidence gathered made it possible to retrace Mr. Kunti Kamara’s career since the late 1980s.
Referring consistently to the indictment, the Presiding judge recounted the salient elements of Mr. Kunti Kamara’s background and the facts with which he is charged. The Presiding judge also referred to the testimonies of the civil parties in the present trial, as well as their confrontations with the accused, while specifying that Mr. Kunti Kamara firmly refuted each of the testimonies and claimed his innocence on several occasions.
The Presiding judge then reported on the adversarial transports that took place in Liberia (in the Lofa region, including Foya and Foya Dundu) from April 23 to May 3, 2019, and from January 6 to January 15 2020, respectively. On these occasions, site visits took place and other witnesses in the field were heard to corroborate the testimony of the civil parties.
The Presiding judge highlighted the logistical, geographical and meteorological difficulties faced by the investigators on site in identifying and locating witnesses.
The Presiding judge gave a very brief description of Mr. Kunti Kamara, indicating that he was born on December 1, 1974 in Kamplay City, Liberia, and that he is the father of two children. He reportedly fled Liberia in 1997 and went to the Netherlands, where he obtained Dutch nationality. He remained in the Netherlands for 12 years, working as an electrician, before moving to Belgium and then France. The personality evaluations, which will be discussed the following day, did not reveal any dangerous or mental abnormality or any distorted relationship with reality.
Returning to the proceedings, the Presiding judge recalled that Mr Kunti Kamara was arrested on September 6, 2018. A procedural irregularity caused him to be placed under conditions of release on August 20, 2019. Nevertheless, the violation of his obligations led the judge in charge of liberty and custody to place him in pre-trial detention again on January 10, 2020. On November 26, 2020, the investigating judges issued an indictment order against him, which was appealed by the PNAT, which challenged a dismissal of the case regarding the qualification of crime against humanity.
The Presiding judge then returned to the decision of the Investigation Chamber of April 1, 2021, which retained the jurisdiction of the French courts, including with respect to offences classified as crimes against humanity.
The Presiding judge listed the charges brought by the Chamber against Mr Kunti Kamara, namely (i) complicity in crimes against humanity in relation to the rapes committed against RK and EN, (ii) the commission of acts of torture and aggravated acts of barbarism against DN, KT, SC, JTC and LSM and (iii) complicity in acts of torture and aggravated acts of barbarism against RK and EN.
The Presiding judge recalled the penalties applicable to the above-mentioned acts, namely life imprisonment for the offence of complicity in crimes against humanity and 20 years imprisonment for acts of torture and aggravated acts of barbarism.
With regard to the acts committed against RK and EN, the Presiding judge raised the question of whether these acts could be prosecuted both as crimes against humanity and as acts of torture and barbarism under the ne bis in idem principle.
Having completed his summary of the indictment, the Presiding judge addressed Mr. Kunti Kamara to ensure that he was aware of the charges against him, which he confirmed. Mr. Kunti Kamara assured that he would answer the Court’s questions. He reiterated his innocence and said of the prosecution witnesses: “Before God I repeat that I do not know any of these people […]; I don’t know them yesterday, I don’t know them tomorrow”.
The hearing was suspended at 6pm.