“I Am Sorry for What Happened to Them If It Happened”

  Defendant Tells Paris War Crimes Court

Anthony Stephens with New Narratives

Day thirteen of this historic war crimes trial of former Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara saw one of the most powerful witness statements of the trial so far. But unlike the dozens of witnesses before her, this witness gave no testimony.

One of the last of the nine plaintiffs in this case, all of whom have traveled to Paris from Foya, in Lofa County in Liberia’s north west, collapsed and was excused from court by the judge within seconds of starting her testimony yesterday. 

Today her lawyer informed the court that she would not be returning. 

“I cannot come again in this room,” the witness said in a statement read in court on her behalf by her lawyer Sabrina Delattre. “I cannot see this man.”

In her statement the witness addressed the man she said she knew as “Co Kundi” during the four-month period of 1993 when rebels with the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO). 

On Tuesday, Thierry Fusina, President of the Paris court abruptly adjourned proceedings after the witness broke down after telling the court “Babylon” shoved a military knife in her vagina, rubbed salt into the wounds and raped her many times. The witness claimed Kamara did nothing as it happened. 

“If Kundi said he didn’t see anything wrong, if Kundi comes to Foya,” the woman said in her statement. “Let’s see if he comes there. The villages will come to him,” she said. The woman then went biblical by saying “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  

She had one wish for the court: “I just want the court to ensure that there’s justice.”

Another woman, who said she considered Kamara as a father figure alleged she was nine years old when she was raped “repeatedly” by two of his bodyguards in his presence. Babylon was notorious for torture and rapes, according to many of the witnesses in this trial.

Though he admits he was in Lofa during this period, Kamara has consistently denied that he committed atrocities. The defendant is given a chance each day to respond to accusations made against him. He has denied that he saw any of the crimes of rape, torture, cannibalism, forced labor and murder that witnesses in the trial have detailed.

But today Kamara said he too was moved by the woman’s emotional breakdown in the court.

“When she fell, to my living God, I never slept when I went to the prison yesterday,” Kamara said.  “I am sorry for what happened to them because I got sister, I got mother. To my living God, I never slept.”

But Kamara said he was shocked by the allegations and maintained his innocence. “My head is big. I don’t know what to say. I am innocent today, I am innocent.”

As he’s done throughout the trial, Kamara repeated his claim that the witnesses are all part of a conspiracy against him. 

“I consider myself to be an elephant today because if you kill an elephant, everyone wants its parts,” he said. “I have no experience about what they are saying.”

Kamara, 47, admitted he knows “Babylon”, the rebel accused of committing this rape and others detailed by witnesses in court on Tuesday. But he claimed the man fought with government forces and was not part of ULIMO. 

Another witness accused Kamara of torture and killings, including the murder of Kumba Tengbeh, a resident of Foya Dudu, allegedly because she was a witch. The witness was the fifth witness to have accused Kamara of the woman’s killing. Tengbeh had recently given birth and was said to be sick when she Kamara allegedly dragged out of her room and shot her in the head according to witnesses. But Kamara has repeatedly rejected the allegations. 

Earlier in the day, the court denied a motion by Kamara’s lawyers to dismiss a charge of forced labor. They had claimed it was outside the 10-year statute of limitations for the law. Another motion to dismiss a portion of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission entered into testimony by the plaintiffs was also dismissed. 

A group of people sitting on a bench

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Judges and jury in the Paris trial of Kunti Kamara. Credit: Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives

Alain Werner, Director of the Swiss based human rights NGO, civitas Maxima (CM), which is also a plaintiff in this case, took the stand on Wednesday. Together with its Liberian partner, the Global Justice, and Research Project (GJRP) Civitas documented Kamara’s alleged crimes. Kamara, like all the other accused perpetrators who have faced trial in Europe and the US for crimes committed in Liberia, has accused GJRP and Civitas of bribing witnesses and coordinating the alleged conspiracy against him. Civitas Maxima has pushed the cases based on the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction” which holds that crimes committed against humanity know no borders.

“I am really thankful to the French, the prosecutors who played a role in this case,” he said. “All that I saw about the French system impressed me. I understand this is the first trial of this type in France besides Rwanda. Universal jurisdiction is the best hope for the victims.”

Werner answered questions about the allegations that have dogged the two organizations. 

“We never said to anyone that they will get money,” Werner said. He made clear that such actions would only undermine his organization’s efforts. “I will never promise a victim that he will get money. If I lose trust with prosecutor’s office. It’s over.”

The trial continues on Thursday.

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.