PARIS, France – On Tuesday a third victim identified Kunti Kamara, on trial for torture, cannibalism and crimes against humanity in the Paris Court, as “Co Kundi” the rebel commander who allegedly committed atrocities in Foya, Lofa County, Liberia.
By Anthony Stephens and Prue Clarke with New Narratives
The man was one of four plaintiffs who have brought the case against Kamara here in Paris, France where Kamara was living when he was arrested in 2019 after French investigators built a case against him.
“You are Kundi,” the man said turning to look at Kamara directly, barely containing his obvious emotion and rage. The plaintiff pointed at Kamara who was sitting behind his lawyers in a protective glass case. “I know you very well. You the one that killed my sister.”
The now elderly man told the court Kamara arrived at his house in Foya in late 1993 after the man’s sister’s baby had died. He alleged Kamara gave the family $L100 for their pain.
Soon after that Kamara allegedly ordered the victim’s sick and half naked sister – the mother of the child – dragged from the house. He accused her of witchcraft. The victim said Kamara and his troops had taken over the house for themselves and already had his wife, son and mother in custody at the time. Kamara did not know the man, who was standing with a crowd, was a member of the family.
The victim was overcome with tears as told the court that he had watched as Kamara put three bullets in his sister’s head.
Within months the man’s mother was also dead from illness. The victim blamed Kunti for the grief the murder of his sister had caused her.
“She cried every day,” he said. “So she became sick from not seeing my sister.”
The lawyer for the civil parties asked the victim if he had anything to say to Kamara but he took the opportunity to issue a warning to the judges instead.
“I’m very happy to see all the officers to take care of Kundi,” he said pointing to the court officers who accompany the defendant at all times. “This government should not leave Kundi to come back to Liberia.”
Kamara rejected all the allegations as he has done consistently throughout this trial.
“I’m just shocked,” an agitated Kamara told the president of the court Thierry Fusina. “I don’t know him. These people, it’s my first time to see them in my life. I don’t know them! They are lying on me. I’m not a criminal.”
Earlier in the day another witness to the alleged murder of the sick woman accused of witchcraft gave evidence that appeared to contradict testimony that he gave to an earlier investigating judge in the case.
The witness alleged that he and other members of the town, including the woman’s husband, witnessed her being brutalized by Kamara’s rebels on Kamara’s orders and then being shot dead by the defendant himself.
Asked repeatedly by Fussina as to whether Kamara was the former Ulimo commander he was referring to, the witness looked at Kamara and said, “He is the one. I know him well.”
But on cross examination, Marilyne Secci, the lead defense lawyer, read a prior statement he made to a French investigating judge in which he said he could not recognize Kamara on the picture they had shown him.
“You said you know him well, but you couldn’t recognize his picture?” Secci asked. The witness did not have a good explanation. “Because the thing (alleged incident) stayed long,” he said.
Secci also pushed the witness on another prior statement to the investigating judge that had made saying that he heard the woman pleading with Kamara not to kill her. But in court the man said she said nothing because she could not talk at the time.
Another point of contradiction was his claim to the earlier judge that Kamara said he killed the woman because she was a witch. When Secci and Fusina separately asked the witness about that testimony in court he told them, “He (Kamara) didn’t make that utterance”.
Inconsistent statements are common in trials of crimes that happened so long ago. They were a major issue during the 2021 trial of Gibril Massaquoi, a former commander of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, by a Finnish court that acquitting him of charges of his participation in Liberia in 2002 and 2003.
In the war crimes trials of Liberians inconsistencies take on particular importance for the defense because there is no forensic evidence to go on. The entire case will be made on the testimonies of witnesses to the crimes that happened nearly 30 years ago. Memories fade, the defense has pointed out. It is difficult for most people to remember precisely events that happened so long ago.
Outside the court Tarek Koraitem, one of Kamara’s defense lawyers made much of the lack of material evidence.
“We just have declarations which are all from 28 years ago and what the prosecutor says now we just have to believe this without even checking if the people they say are dead are really dead,” Koraitem said. “We didn’t dig. We didn’t make any forensic analysis on the body? We just have people speaking. It’s the only thing we have in this case.”
Koraitem was also critical of the way these cases came together. Global Justice and Research Project came to the witnesses. They didn’t go to a police station and make a formal complete.
“It’s very easy to change witness testimony, “ Koraitem said. “And we cannot be sure that what they see really happened 28 years ago. I have no problem with Global Justice but I would feel better if it’s a policeman from the state that first comes to investigate.”
The court start time was delayed this morning because one of the witnesses, an elderly man flown in from Liberia, was taken to hospital. He is expected to be released shortly.
The trial continues Wednesday with the testimony of a plaintiff who says he was tortured by Kamara and also a psychiatrist’s analysis of the witnesses.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.