France state

France. Conviction of ex-Liberian rebel commander is ‘justice for the victims’

Kunti Kamara sentenced to life imprisonment

Witnesses described killings, rapes, beatings, forced labor and torture by the rebel group and Kunti Kamara

The trial was the first in France concerning serious crimes committed abroad that were not linked to the Rwandan genocide.

The conviction of Kunti Kamara, a former Liberian rebel commander for wartime atrocities in Liberia by a French court is an important step in bringing justice to victims, Amnesty International France, the International Federation of Leagues said today of Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.

The Paris Criminal Court yesterday handed down its judgment for complicity in crimes against humanity and responsibility as the direct perpetrator of torture and “barbaric acts” in the trial of Kunti Kamara.

Kamara is a former member of the rebel group United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), active during Liberia’s first civil war. The judges sentenced him to life imprisonment. The prosecution and defense have 10 days to appeal the decision. A hearing to consider the civil parties’ claim for compensation ensued.

Elise Keppler, associate director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, said:

“More than 25 years later, the verdict of the French justice is a beacon of hope that justice is possible for the victims in Liberia.

“The Liberian government should stop dragging its feet and ask the UN, the United States, the African Union and other international partners to help set up a war crimes tribunal so that more people implicated in crimes during the civil war can be held accountable.

During the trial, which lasted just under four weeks, witnesses described killings, rapes, beatings, forced labor and torture by members of ULIMO. Some victims identified Kamara as physically involved in the commission of the crimes. Additional witnesses testified about the context in Liberia and the psychological state of some of the other witnesses who testified to the crimes.

Kamara’s trial in person in France was possible because the country’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law, allowing the prosecution of these crimes wherever they were committed and regardless of nationality. suspects or victims. This trial was the first in France concerning serious crimes committed abroad which were not linked to the Rwandan genocide.

Rare convictions for crimes committed during the war in Liberia

Convictions for war crimes, crimes against humanity or torture during Liberia’s civil war have been rare. Alieu Kosiah was convicted in Switzerland of war crimes last year, and the judgment is currently on appeal, and Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, Jr., son of the Liberian leader at the time, was convicted in the United States for torture in 2008. Kosiah was brought from Switzerland to France to testify in the trial of Kunti Kamara.

Liberia has not attempted to prosecute a single grave crime among the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by all parties during Liberia’s civil wars. Charles Taylor was only tried for crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Kamara was arrested in 2018, after the Civitas Maxima organization brought his case to the attention of French authorities. After two years of investigation, including a two-week fact-finding mission to Lofa County in northwestern Liberia, where he allegedly led the local ULIMO faction, the French prosecutor charged him with various crimes.

Jeanne Sulzer, President of the International Justice Commission of Amnesty International France, said:

“This Liberia atrocities trial is an important example of how France’s universal jurisdiction can provide a pathway to justice for victims.

“Witnesses described extraordinary brutality for which Kunti Kamara was convicted, including murder, rape and torture.

Universal jurisdiction in France

The use of universal jurisdiction in France is limited by several legal barriers. These include the requirement that the accused must have his “habitual residence” in France and that the crimes, even if prohibited by international law, must be explicitly punishable by the criminal law of the country where they have been committed, except in cases of genocide. Furthermore, unlike other crimes in France, the public prosecutor has discretionary power to prosecute and French prosecutors must verify whether a national or international court has declared itself competent before opening an investigation.

Clémence Bectarte, lawyer for the International Federation for Human Rights and coordinator of the Litigation Action Group, said:

“The limits of French laws on universal jurisdiction restrict access to justice for victims of the most serious crimes.

“The French authorities must align their laws on universal jurisdiction with their commitments in the fight against impunity for international crimes.