PARIS, France – Kunti Kamara appeared to undermine his defense case in his trial on torture, cannibalism and crimes against humanity on Wednesday as he denied repeatedly that Ulimo had committed any atrocities during its four month occupation of the district of Foya in Lofa County, Liberia in 1993 according to court observers.
By Anthony Stephens and Prue Clarke with New Narratives
As he has done throughout the trial Kamara denied that he knew anything of child soldiers, torture, sex slaves, rape, cannibalism and forced labor in the county despite the testimony of dozens of Liberian and international witnesses in this trial and hearings of Liberia’s 2008 Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Maybe it went on in another places,” Kamara told the court. “I only know of two child soldiers. They were twins captured in Gbarnga. 16 or 17 years old.”
Kamara insisted that he never spent any time in Foya town where his commander “Deku” was in charge. He said he was always on the frontlines. Kamara said he knew nothing of where food and fuel came from and denied he and his troops were told to “pay yourself” – meaning that they were not supplied by Ulimo but were to take food and fuel from civilians.
“The Ulimo administration in Foya responsible for that I don’t know anything,” Kamara said. “I was always on the frontline.”
Court observers said they thought the jurors would find that hard to believe given the volume of evidence they have heard from a variety of witnesses and testimony going back 15 years. Given there is no physical evidence in this trial, jurors’ decision will come down to whether Kamara or the witnesses are telling the truth. If jurors question Kamara’s honesty over atrocities that are so well documented, they may well conclude that he is being dishonest about his guilt.
Unlike in the United States which requires a unanimous verdict to convict, the French system requires only a majority of the nine-person jury to find Kamara guilty.
Outside the court Sabrina Delattre, lawyer for the plaintiffs – nine victims and Civitas Maxima, the Swiss-based human rights organization – said she was feeling confident about the trial. She highlighted the fact that Kamara had conceded that he was “Co Kundi” during the war; that he had been in Foya during the four-month Ulimo occupation in 1993 and that he knew of no other Co Kundis in the district at the time.
“The thing that is really specific about this case is that Kunti is denying a lot of things but he’s not denying that he was in Foya at the time. He’s also confirmed that his name was Co Kundi at the time and and he confirmed yesterday that he’s the only person in Ulimo whose name was Co Kundi so I’m really confused now that he’s saying the witnesses are mistaken about the fact that Co Kundi was there in 1993 because Kundi is saying the same thing. “
Delattre also rejected Kamara’s argument that witnesses were trying to win asylum or travel to Europe.
“We’ve been working on this case for a long time and some people have already been here and given their statements to the judge and they always went back to their city; went back to their life in Liberia,” Delattre said. “Nothing like that happened. Right now some of the witness in the trial are already back to Liberia. So I think this is a nonsense.”
Also today came the surprise news that Alieu Kosiah, the Ulimo commander and Kamara ally who was convicted of crimes against humanity in Switzerland in 2021, will testify in person on Friday on Kamara’s behalf. Kosiah was convicted of multiple atrocities including the use of child soldiers. In an inexplicable decision, that helped seal his conviction, Kosiah called a man who told the court that he had been a child when Kosiah recruited him as a fighter as one of Kosiah’s own character witnesses.
Having a man convicted of multiple atrocities defend him on Friday may further undermine Kamara’s claim of innocence in the minds of the jurors.
Earlier in the day, one of the plaintiffs in the case accused Kamara of forced labor—one of the charges for which he’s being prosecuted.
“I remember specifically one moment when Co Kundi ordered his bodyguards to grab me to carry on forced labor,” the witness said. The man, now in his 50s, alleged that 50 to 100 other men in the town were forcefully abducted by Kamara and other ULIMO commanders.
He said the civilians gathered looted items, including cars, cocoa, coffee, and parts scrapped from a generator that served the whole town of Foya and put them into a six-tire truck with logs. The victim said they pushed the truck to the town of Solomba along the Liberian-Guinean border about 23 kilometers away.
The victim told the court Kamara and his soldiers would sing as they drove the civilians “Till go, any bush shake you die, any bush shake, your heart.”
“We really went through terror to carry those things,” he said confirming that people died on the march. “I didn’t see people being killed. But there was shooting.”
Thierry Fusina, the president of the court, asked whether human parts were used at checkpoints.
“Yes, yes. I’ve spoken of human beings— my brother-in-law, his head was cut off.” It was put on a stake, the victim said. “The head was placed at the front of a checkpoint and people passing had to do like this,” he said demonstrating a salute.
ULIMO captured Lofa County from Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front in 1993. Many of the witnesses in this trial have claimed that they and other civilians were tortured, killed, and subjected to forced labor for their alleged support of the NPFL. Their testimonies were corroborated by Wednesday’s first witness.
“One terrible moment was a guy they accused of being with Charles Taylor. His penis was cut off. True life story,” the witness said. “He ran against a wall. Still they killed him.”
He said as a result of the soldiers’ alleged human rights violations, Alhaji Kromah, then leader of ULIMO, went to Foya to apologize to the people.
“He brought some cattle. I think he was still apologizing to the people of Foya because the disaster of Foya” the man said.
Kamara claimed Kromah made the apology in 1996 when he was campaigning for elections and would not have done so otherwise.
The trial continues on Thursday.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.