Investigated for war crimes, crimes against humanity
Amid a growing demand for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia to try those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibilities for the country’s 14-year civil war, French security authorities have arrested and detained a suspected former front-line military commander from Liberia’s brutal civil war.
Following his arrest over the weekend, the suspect, only identified as Kunti K., was placed under formal investigation for war crimes, crimes against humanity and alleged atrocities, including torture and cannibalism (eating of human beings), French police said Friday.
A legal source said the man, identified as naturalized Dutch citizen Kunti K., is suspected of being a former commander in the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a predominantly Mandingo warring faction, which fought during the 1990s, from bases in Guinea.
Kunti K’s arrest followed a complaint filed in July by Civitas Maxima, a Switzerland-based human rights group that works in collaboration with the Liberia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GPRS), headed by Hassan Bility.
“What is very important for this case is how it includes in a broader situation former war commanders or people that allegedly committed war crimes all over the world and how they are facing criminal charges. This is one more,” said Romain Wavre, legal associate with Civitas Maxima.
“I believe that this will not stop, this is what the Liberian people want,” Wavre added.
An Agence French Presse (AFP) report quoted French law enforcement authorities as saying Kunti K. had been charged with torture, murder, slavery, the use of child soldiers, and cannibalism (eating of human beings) particularly civilian victims, between 1993 and 1997.
Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documented that ULIMO committed 11,500 atrocities beginning in Lofa County where they first launched the insurgency under the command of Alhaji G.V. Kromah. “This arrest comes at such a crucial time,” said Mr. Bility of the Monrovia-based GJRP in a press release.
“In Liberia, people are hopeful that the high-ranking commanders, the people who committed the most horrific crimes, will be held accountable. Kunti K.’s arrest and the previous arrests shows that justice for crimes committed during the civil wars can be achieved.”
About 250,000 people died in one of the 20th century’s most brutal civil wars that took place between 1989 and 2003. Kunti K. joins Martina Johnson in Belgium, Aleiu Kosiah in Switzerland and Agnes Reeves Taylor in the United Kingdom, who all face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection to the Liberian civil war.
“We are, of course, confident that this case will go to trial but, in the end, the court will decide whether Kunti K. is guilty or not. I cannot speak for the court, but we are confident that Kunti K. committed several crimes,” Wavre said. He could not reveal further information so as not to compromise the case. Wavre confirmed that Civitas Maxima was supporting investigations into more cases in Europe.
“I can confirm that we are also looking at several other cases that we cannot talk about, and we cannot say within which country the alleged perpetrator lives as long as the proceeding is not public,” he told AFP shortly after Kunti K. was arrested.
According to AFP, Kunti K. was arrested on Tuesday, September 4, in the northeast Paris suburb of Bobigny where he had been hiding out at the home of a friend. Kunti is suspected of torture, murder, slavery, the use of child soldiers and cannibalism between 1993 and 1997.
Liberia was devastated by two civil wars that began on Christmas Eve in 1989 in Buutuo, Nimba County, near the Ivorian border. Two-hundred fifty thousand (250,000) people were reportedly killed between 1989 and 2003.
ULIMO was set up to fight against a rebel force headed by Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting rebels who committed atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Kunti K., born in 1974, was detained in a joint operation by elite GIGN police and officers from France’s OCLCH agency, which investigates war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
“He had arrived in France in 2016, after leaving the Netherlands and passing through Belgium,” said Colonel Eric Emeraux, head of the OCLCH.
Paris prosecutors had opened an initial investigation into Kunti K., after victims’ rights group Civitas Maxima filed a criminal complaint on July 23. Contacted by AFP, the Geneva-based group, which offers legal support to victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, declined to comment on the case. (AFP)