Trial Monitoring: Kunti K.

  • Court sketch of Kunti Kamara during his trial, Cour d'Assises of Paris, France. By JP Kalonji
  • Judge bench President judge and accessors Kunti Kamara trial Cour d'Assises of Paris, France. Court sketch by JP Kalonji
  • Defence team Kunti Kamara trial Cour d'Assises Paris, France. Court sketch by JP Kalonji
  • Kunti Kamara, and a police officer, at trial Cour d'Assises Paris, France. Court sketch by JP Kalonji

Kunti Kamara, ancien commandant de l'ULIMO, a été jugé à Paris, en France. Après 17 jours de procès, qui se sont déroulés du 10 octobre au 2 novembre 2022, M. Kamara a été reconnu coupable de tous les chefs d'accusation qui lui étaient reprochés, à savoir : viols et esclavage sexuel commis par ses subordonnés sur des personnes particulièrement vulnérables ; soumission d'un homme à de graves souffrances et participation à la consommation publique de son cœur ; exécution d'une femme malade qui venait de perdre son bébé parce qu'elle était accusée de sorcellerie ; soumission de deux hommes à des travaux forcés dans des conditions inhumaines ; et torture d'un civil. M. Kamara nie toutes les accusations et a fait appel de la décision.

Art de JP Kalonji.

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Limitation de responsabilité

La procédure se déroule en français ; le français est donc la langue originale de ce suivi. Comme rendre l'information juridique accessible fait partie de la mission de Civitas Maxima, des traductions en anglais faites avec Deepl seront disponibles. Par conséquent, des problèmes avec la traduction anglaise peuvent s'appliquer.

Les noms de certains témoins et parties civiles ne sont pas divulgués pour des raisons de confidentialité et de sécurité.

Le suivi des débats n'est pas une transcription officielle du tribunal.

[10/10/2022] Jour un

Récapitulatif jour un : ouverture du procès
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The trial of Kunti Kamara, former ULIMO commander, started today in Paris, France. The parties selected the members of the jury – 10 in total (6 permanents and 4 alternates) – who will sit next to the presiding judge and two assessors for the entirety of the trial.

It ensued a discussion on logistics and an overview of those who will come and testify. Alieu Kosiah, former ULIMO commander sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Switzerland for the crimes he committed during the First Liberian Civil War, is expected to testify at trial. 

Presiding Judge Fusina gave a brief account of Liberia’s history, focusing on the First Liberian Civil War. He then introduced the defendant to the court, his alleged role in the war, and the crimes he is accused of – which include forced labour, and enabling rape. Kunti Kamara declares himself innocent and affirms that he does not know any of the people that accuse him of committing such crimes. “I don’t know them today, I don’t know them tomorrow” he stated.

[10/11/2022] Jour deux

Récapitulatif jour deux : biographie de Kamara
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Today’s session focused on Mr. Kamara’s personality. The witnesses all came from different backgrounds: first, a person from an association mandated by the investigative judge to evaluate Mr. Kamara’s personality spoke.  Following that, the judges read two statements of witnesses that attested to Kamara’s social behavior when they met him in France. The fourth witness is the former President of the Liberian Mandingo Association in France – who was the last person to see Mr. Kamara before his first arrest in 2018. The fifth witness is the President of the Liberian association in Normandie, called United Liberian. This witness was hosting Mr. Kamara when he was first released from prison. Before the lunch break, another statement was read which relayed how Mr. Kamara was struggling, and that the witness took him in, and how he run errands for her. 

In the afternoon, Mr. Kamara answered questions about himself. He recounted about his early life and his struggles during the war, including how he lost many family members to the NPFL. He enlisted himself in ULIMO because of Alhaji Kromah’s activism. Furthermore, Mr. Kamara discussed his life in Europe, as he journeyed through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France to seek working opportunities.  

Mr. Kamara obtained a Guinean travelling document under a different name in order to reach Portugal and flee Europe, as he had heard rumors that people were looking for him. His fleeing triggered his first arrest. Police describe him as a silent, reserved, and obliging person. 

Finally, experts in psychology and psychiatry were heard. Both experts stated that Mr. Kamara did not have any pathology or condition that could exclude his criminal responsibility should the facts be established.

[10/12/2022] Jour trois

Récapitulatif jour trois : le contexte
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The third day of trial focused on the context of Liberia’s civil wars: the day was dedicated to hearing witnesses that could provide an understanding about the context the alleged crimes were committed in. The entire morning was dedicated to the testimony of Patrick Robert, a war photographer, who discussed his experience reporting on Liberia during the First Civil War. He shared his frustrations about how the international community did not assist Liberia enough during this time. Pictures he took were shown, and he commented.

A short documentary on the First Civil War was shown. After that, a French journalist and economist who specializes in West Africa testified about how unique the context of Liberia’s wars is.

The last witness of the day was John Stewart, former TRC Commissioner. He recounted how the TRC was set, and what it aimed to do. He discussed about the widespread and the systematic violence Liberian people were subjected to. He stated: “Impunity creates an institution of fear".

[10/12/2022] Jour 3 : le contexte

[10/12/2022] Day 3: the context The President submitted a document prepared by the Crimes Against Humanity Unit, which presents Liberia in a synthetic manner. This…

[10/13/2022] Jour quatre

Récapitulatif jour quatre : l'enquête
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The fourth day focused on the investigation that led to the trial. From the French Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity, the Court heard General Reiland, and ADC Perruggia; from Monrovia, via videoconference, the court heard Luther Sumo, Lofa County Prosecutor, and Patrick J. Massaly, Assistant Police Commissioner in Monrovia.

In spring 2019, the French and Liberian authorities collaborated on a fact-finding mission relating to proceedings that were commenced in France following the arrest of Mr. Kamara: it was the first time since the end of the Second Civil War in 2003 that Liberian authorities have proceeded, along with foreign authorities, to undertake crime scene reconstructions relating to war-time crimes. All men heard were involved in this process: the Court asked them how the investigation was led, what steps they took, and the procedure they followed.

[10/14/2022] Jour cinq

Récapitulatif jour cinq : les premières victimes témoignent
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Today, the Court heard four people, two witnesses and two civil parties: all of them came to testify from Liberia.

The morning was dedicated to the civil parties, wife and daughter of a man who was brutally murdered by ULIMO: he had been tortured, and his chest had been cut open. None of them were present when the fact occurred, but the mother was told that it was ordered by CO Kunti. The daughter talked about being repeatedly raped by ULIMO troops when she was about 10-12 years old.  

In the afternoon, two witnesses shared how ULIMO took over Foya, and the terror the civil population lived in. Both claim to have seen Mr Kunti committing crimes. One of the witnesses spoke directly to the defendant and said: “What you did to Foya and Foya’s people… today is for justice, so that the people that died can rest».

[10/17/2022] Jour six

Récapitulatif jour six : conclusion du premier incident
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The second week of trial began today, as the court continued hearing people regarding the incident first discussed on Friday: the first witness, however, had not seen the murder himself. After this, a civil party testified, and described the torture and the murder of said victim. The civil party asserted that CO Kundi was there when the victim was killed, took part in the beating, and celebrated together with other ULIMO commanders when Ugly Boy opened the victim’s chest and ate a piece of his heart. He stated that he saw CO Kunti eating a piece as well. Images of Foya taken by the French authorities during the 2019 site visit were later shown: the civil party commented on how it used to look in 1993, which is when the facts allegedly happened.

"Eating human meat? I want to vomit. I never ate human meat” said Mr Kamara. He further elaborated that he had not been assigned to Foya, and that he never heard of ULIMO using tabay on anyone, nor that ULIMO committed any atrocities against civilians. He reiterated that he did not know the people that accused him.

Finally, Ms Massa Washington, former TRC commissioner, was heard. She gave additional context about the first civil war, focusing especially on the mistreatment of women. “The war was brutal” she said, “and massacres and rapes happened everywhere there were rebel soldiers".

[10/18/2022] Jour sept

Récapitulatif jour sept : le meurtre d'une femme
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Day seven was dedicated to hearing witnesses and a civil party connected to the murder of a woman in a village near Foya. The first witness described how Mr Kamara shot and killed a woman. The Judge read two statements from the another witness who shared that Mr Kamara had shot the victim, and accused her of being a witch.

In the afternoon, the brother of the victim, a civil party, was heard. He testified about how he saw Mr Kamara shooting his sister, and had heard that the defendant accused his sister of witchcraft. The court then showed pictures taken by the French investigators in 2019 of the crime scene where the victim had been killed.

Finally, Mr Kamara took the stand to respond to the accusations. He stated he had only passed by the village in question but never set foot on it, and that he did not know any of the people that accused him.

[10/19/2022] Jour huit

Récapitulatif jour huit : travail forcé
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Day eight was dedicated to hearing people who had experienced forced labour during the first Liberian civil war. According to a civil party, which had already testified a few days prior about another incident (day six), the generator of the power station of Foya had been looted, and Mr Kamara – along with other ULIMO commanders – such as Ugly Boy, Mr Kosiah, and Dekou, had forced some inhabitants to carry the generator from Foya to Solomba, in order to sell the looted goods in Guinea. Up to this day, the generator has not been replaced, and there is no electricity in Foya.

In the afternoon, two more witnesses were heard, who all shared their experiences about being forced to carry heavy loads by ULIMO. The first witness saw Mr Kamara only once, but spoke about how the accused beheaded his brother. The second witness told the court how the generator had been looted by ULIMO, but had only heard of Mr. Kamara, but did not know him personally.

A video was shown to the Court: it was a TRC testimony held in Foya, Lofa, recorded in 2008. A person in the video is sharing his experience with ULIMO, and mentions C.O. Kundi as a commander in the area.

Finally, Mr Kamara was heard on the incident: he stated that he had only stayed in the Foya district for 4 months, as he was posted on the battle front somewhere else. He reiterated that he did not know the people who accused him, nor has he ever seen them.

[10/20/2022] Journeuf

Récapitulatif jour neuf : enfant soldat et commandant de bataillon
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Day nine of trial began by hearing a civil party who testified about being forced to work for ULIMO, including looting a generator in Foya. The electrical equipment was placed on a engineless trailer that him and others had to push all the way to the Guinean border. According to him, Mr Kamara beat him and threaten him to kill him and to eat his heart: he still has physical issues from that beating. The civil party told the court about a song ULIMO troops used to sing to them, as they were forced to work: “If you get tired, we kill you” were some of the lyrics. He described seeing tortured dead bodies around, and heard about sexual violence committed by ULIMO. Pictures the French authorities took in 2019 of the places where the alleged crimes were committed were shown.

In the afternoon, statements of witnesses were read by the Court. The first was from a former child soldier, who was also a defense witness in the Alieu Kosiah case. According to him, tabay had been practiced in Voinjama, Zorzor, Foya, and Salayé. Moreover, the statement read how he had met CO Kunti in Foya, and that Kamara and Kosiah were close. After that, a statement from the former ULIMO ALLIGATOR battalion commander was read. According to the witness, Mr Kamara was a child soldier himself, and that he was a good soldier, and whoever accused Kunti to have hurt them was lying.

[10/21/2022] Jour dix

Récapitulatif jour dix : Alieu Kosiah témoigne
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The day began with a psychologist who had examined three of the civil parties that already testified. He said that none of them suffered of any pathologies that would indicate they have a distorted version of reality.

In the afternoon, Alieu Kosiah was heard. Some civil parties and witnesses implicate him and Mr Kamara in forcing civilians to work for ULIMO. Mr Kosiah accused Civitas Maxima and GJRP, stating that those who accuse him have been manipulated by the two organizations. He explained ULIMO’s hierarchy, and his military career. He refused to answer questions that dealt with the widespread sexual violence during the conflict, nor how ULIMO survived without having wages. Mr Kosiah said he was higher in rank, and that while he was based in Zorzor – which according to him was the frontline in 1994, – he assumed Mr Kamara was based in Foya. He added that ULIMO did not eat human flesh, and that tabay was a NPFL practice. Talking about child soldiers, he stated that “it is shocking now, in 2022. It was less shocking then, in 1990".

Finally, Mr Kamara took the stand. He reiterated that during 1993 and 1994 he was on the frontline, which according to him was in Mendekoma, in Foya County. He stated he was not in Foya town, and he did not know the people that accused him.

[10/24/2022] Jour onze

Récapitulatif jour onze : tabey
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Day 11 was dedicated to an incident of torture experienced by the civil party who testified in the morning. He recounted how he and other men had been captured by ULIMO, which accused them of being NPFL soldiers. He was tabeyed, along with the others. According to him, Alieu Kosiah and Kunti Kamara were both there. Allegedly the other civilians were killed, and then he was stabbed. Pictures of his wounds were shown to the court. After he had healed, he decided to join ULIMO, as he was scared to be targeted again. He was part of two forced marches: one where he himself carried the looted goods, and another when he had already joined ULIMO. He places both Kamara and Kosiah in both of these marches. A documentary about the tabey practice was shown to the court.

After this, two witnesses were heard via videolink from Monrovia. One witnessed the incident the civil party testified about. The second was a defense witness who recounted being wounded; however he did not know if it had been Mr. Kamara, or ULIMO to had hurt him.

Finally, Mr. Kamara spoke. He said he did not know the people who accused him: “I cannot fool you, they cannot fool you. You know they are liars”, he said to the Presiding Judge.

[10/25/2022] Jour douze

Récapitulatif jour douze : violence sexuelle
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The morning began with the defense arguing that acts of torture of which Mr. Kamara is charged with happened too long ago, according to French law, for him to be tried on these counts. The Court will deliberate and render its decision tomorrow morning.

The first civil party stated that she had been raped several times by Mr Kamara’s bodyguards, and that he had been aware of it. She also talked about the torture and death of her father, which was then echoed by her sister – heard after her – who recounted that it was Mr Kamara who gave the order. A French psychologist who had examined the civil party was heard by the Court and said that the woman has a lot of post traumatic stress, and that her life is severely impacted by what has happened to her.

Finally, the second civil party was heard. Ten minutes into her testimony she had to stop, as the recalling the violence she was subjected to overwhelmed her.

[10/26/2022] Jour treize

Récapitulatif jour treize : Civitas Maxima
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The Court decided that the statute of limitation, which was raised by the defense the day before, does not apply, and Mr Kamara can be prosecuted for acts of torture.

The Court read the statements of the civil party who could not continue her testimony yesterday. She described being tortured and raped by Babylon, a ULIMO soldier under Mr Kamara’s command. After that, a witness was heard in regards of the murder of a woman accused of witchcraft. The witness described how Mr Kamara had gone into the woman’s room and shot her. An additional civil party, who had been there when the victim was murdered, could not attend court, but his statement was read.

Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, was heard. He explained how the organization was established, its funding, and its relationship with Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). He described how Civitas Maxima and GJRP conduct their investigations, and how they found information about Mr Kamara.

Finally, Mr Kamara took the stand. He repeated that he did not know any of the people who accuse him, nor was he aware of any atrocities committed by ULIMO.

[10/27/2022] Jour quatorze

Récapitulatif jour quatorze : Kamara parle
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Day 14 was dedicated to hearing Mr. Kamara after all of the witnesses and the civil parties testified in these past weeks. First, his military career in ULIMO was discussed: when he started as a bodyguard in 1993, until left ULIMO with the grade of colonel in 1997.

He was then asked about all incidents he is accused of. His presence at the beating and murder of a cleric – and the allegations against him eating a piece of human heart; the murder of a woman accused of witchcraft, which witnesses and civil parties accuse him of carrying out; his involvement in forced marches at the expense of civilians; torturing a civilian with tabey; complicity in sexual violence, as he was aware – and allegedly approved of – the rape of two women by soldiers under his command.

Mr. Kamara reiterated that he did not know the people who accused him, and stated that he never saw ULIMO soldiers committing any atrocities.

[10/28/2022] Jour quinze

Récapitulatif jour quinze : plaidoirie de la partie civile
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As the trial is coming to an end, the parties will have to plead. The first lawyer to do so was the one who represents the civil parties: she recounted what was discussed during these past three weeks, with a special focus on the victims who came to testify at trial.

The lawyer stressed how Lofa county – rich in resources and strategically placed – was completely pillaged, and its inhabitants forced to endure atrocities by the hands of ULIMO soldiers, like forced marches, sexual violence, torture, and murder.

Whilst Mr Kamara has often described the victims as being part of a conspiracy against him, the lawyer told the Court how he never once acknowledged any wrong doing by ULIMO, nor his role in the group. “They don’t want vengeance, they want justice” stated the lawyer.

[10/31/2022] Jour seize

Récapitulatif jour seize : le Ministère public et la défense plaident
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The prosecution began by recalling the universal jurisdiction principle and its importance for Liberia. The Prosecution explained how ULIMO committed massive and systematic crimes against the civilian population, which “did not happen just in Foya, but in all towns of Lofa: Voinjama, Kolahun, Zorzor, and beyond” and that crimes of these natures not only concern Liberians, but humanity as a whole. It further elaborated that, whilst Mr Kamara had said he commanded two platoons, he has never shown remorse, or never justified himself beyond saying that he knew nothing.

The defense pleaded that there was not enough material evidence to find Mr. Kamara guilty of the crimes he was accused of, and that some witnesses and civil parties describe him as crossed eyed, which he is not. It then said that this is not a trial against ULIMO, but of Mr. Kamara, and that the jury should not reach a decision solely based on what the witnesses and the civil parties had disclosed, but on the entirety of the evidence. It further elaborated that the actions ULIMO carried out in Lofa were not systematic, but rather isolated incidents against civilian population, and therefore Mr. Kamara could not be judged for crimes against humanity: “you are not Liberian avengers, you are French jurors” stated the defense.

Finally, both parties told the jury that this verdict will be historic, as it is the first case about the Liberian civil war tried in a French court, and that the verdict will be heard far beyond the borders of the country.

[11/02/2022] Jour dix-sept

Récapitulatif jour dix-sept : le verdict
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The morning of the last day of trial, Mr Kamara had the opportunity to speak to the Court. He stated: “I have nothing to say, I’m innocent today and I’m innocent tomorrow, I’m just a soldier.”

The jury deliberated all day, and at 7:30 pm local time, it rendered its verdict: Mr Kamara was convicted of all the crimes he is accused of, and therefore found guilty of complicity of crimes against humanity, and complicity and commission of acts of torture and barbarism. In particular: rape and sexual slavery committed by his subordinates on particularly vulnerable people; subjecting a man to severe suffering and participating in the public eating of his heart; executing a sick woman, who had just lost her baby, because she was accused of witchcraft; subjecting two men to forced labor under inhumane conditions; and torturing a civilian.

Mr Kamara is therefore sentenced to life imprisonment. He has 10 days to appeal the decision.

A la suite du verdict, les parties civiles ont demandé un euro symbolique en guise de préjudice moral. La Cour a fait droit à la requête.