A French court sitting in Paris has sentenced former Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara to life in prison for war crimes committed during Liberia's civil war.
Kunti Kamara was a senior officer in the Ultimo armed rebel group, which was responsible for a reign of terror in northwest Liberia in the 1990s. Before the judge gave the verdict, eyewitnesses gave harrowing testimonies during the three-week trial.
The accusations against him included publicly murdering a school teacher, whose heart he then ate, and allowing soldiers under his command to rape two teenage girls repeatedly.
However, lawyers representing Kamara had pleaded with the court not to consider the eyewitness reports and evidence against their clients, claiming that they were unreliable.
According to reports, the trial was held in France because he was arrested there, and French law permits prosecution for the most serious crimes, even if they were committed abroad.
Around a quarter of a million people were killed in civil unrest in Liberia in the ten years between 1989 and 2003, which would ultimately kill 250,000 people in Liberia. Yes, it remains a big surprise that no one in Liberia has been tried for war crimes in a Liberian court, regardless of a truth commission calling for the establishment of a special tribunal.
The fighting was marked by mass murders, rape, and mutilations, in many cases by child soldiers conscripted by warlords, with multiple atrocities committed against civilians.
The 47-year-old defendant betrayed little emotion when the verdict was pronounced. But the news of his conviction seems to have come as ahuge form of rrlief for many victims of the Liberian civil war.
In the Liberian capital Monrovia, Adama Dempster – secretary general of the Civil Society Human Rights Group – hailed "good news for the numerous victims of atrocities during the Liberian civil war."
"We hope that all those who were perpetrators of savage brutality will have their days in court without exception."
Kunti Kamara was arrested in France in 2018, and a tribunal was up in 2012 to try suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide detained on French soil, irrespective of where their alleged crimes were committed.
Kamara's case is on record to be the first case to be handled outside the Rwandan genocide. Before now, all the claims brought before the tribunal has been cases linked to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
One key aspect of the case was the determination of the prosecution to seek the ultimate justice of life imprisonment for Kunti Kamara. To achieve this, they paraded many witnesses whom they brought in from Liberia to testify in the three-week trial.
NGO Civitas Maxima, which took legal action against Kamara in 2018, paid tribute to the "courage of the victims and witnesses who came to Paris to testify."
They "further contributed to this extraordinary quest for justice undertaken by Liberian victims who have been forgotten by both their government and the international community."
Throughout the trial, Kamara consistently denied the allegations and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy, maintaining he was merely a simple soldier.