Paris: On Thursday rights groups praised the conviction in Paris of ex-Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara, who was sentenced to life in prison for abominations committed during the West African country’s first civil war.
Kamara was found guilty on Wednesday of executing torture and barbaric acts in 1993 when he was essential to a rebel group known as the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) active during the conflict.
One of his legal advisors, Maryline Secci, told the media in an email on Thursday that she would appeal the sentence. Kamara has kept up his innocence. The Paris Criminal Court that conveyed its judgment additionally accused him of complicity in crimes against humanity carried out in 1994, the Paris anti-terrorism prosecution office said.
Liberia got through conflicts that killed around 250,000 individuals between 1989 and 2003, when ex-president Charles Taylor, who held onto power in an overthrow that ignited the rebellion, stepped down. Thousands of people were ravaged and raped in fighting that involved drugged fighters and child soldiers recruited by warlords.
A commission was set up in 2006 to probe crimes committed during the conflict, but critics say its findings have been largely not executed. Rights groups say convictions have been rare and all prosecutions for major crimes have taken place outside Liberia.
Kamara was arrested in 2018 after an NGO brought his case to the consideration of French authorities. His trial was the first in France involving grave crimes carried out abroad that are not connected to the Rwandan genocide. It was possible because France recognizes universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes, permitting prosecution regardless of where or by whom the act was committed.
In an explanation, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, Elise Keppler, said “The French court’s verdict is a ray of hope that justice is possible for the victims in Liberia.” During the four-week trial, witnesses portrayed killings, rapes, beatings, and torture by members of ULIMO, which fought against Taylor’s military.
Another ULIMO member, Alieu Josiah, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in Switzerland last year, while Taylor was sentenced for war crimes in 2012, but only for acts in neighboring Sierra Leone. His son, Chuckie, was sentenced for torture in Liberia by a U.S. court in 2009.