By Anthony Stephens with New Narratives
PARIS, France -The judge in the ongoing war crimes trial of Kunti Kamara abruptly adjourned the hearing on Tuesday after an inconsolable witness began a graphic description of her alleged rape by a soldier under Kamara’s command. It was an emotional day of testimony that saw two witnesses break down in tears as they described the alleged crimes of the former commander of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO) including rapes by Kamara’s soldiers and murder.
Tuesday’s first witness told the three judges and six jurors who are hearing the case that her alleged rapist was known as “Babylon”. She and other witnesses said the ULIMO rebel was notorious for rape and torture. She said Kamara was present when Babylon grabbed her.
“That night, he tied me,” the witness said. “He opened my legs and put salt in my vagina. He took up the knife and rubbed the salt…,” the woman fell to her knees in tears.
A staff of the court gave her a chair to sit on while she composed herself. But it was not enough. As the witness stood to resume her testimony, she struggled for balance and with a trembling voice, cried out about the crime that she said changed her life 29 years ago.
“I am damaged! My people, I am damaged,” the witness said, swaying as she cried.
This prompted the court’s President, Thierry Fusina to immediately halt proceedings. After convening meetings of lawyers, jurors and court staff he announced the court would delay the testimony.
“The lady is in a state of shock,” said Fusina. “She’s grieving. So, we will give her more time. We will hear from her tomorrow morning.”
Outside the courtroom, the witness sat on a bench, surrounded by her lawyer, Sabrina Delattre and other witnesses, who comforted her. Minutes later, first aiders assigned to the Palais de Justice came to assess her condition. She was allowed to rest before leaving the court.
The court has asked the media to withhold the names of the witnesses for fear of retribution. Kamara faces numerous charges, including complicity in crimes against humanity—charges he’s repeatedly denied.
The witness was not the only one to tell the court about Babylon’s alleged cruelty.
“Babylon and his bodyguards used human intestines and heads at the gates,” another witness said, corroborating the testimonies of other witnesses in the trial about alleged acts of barbarism by the ULIMO soldiers under Kamara’s watch.
The witness also told the court that she was just nine years old at the time. Kamara was present when two of his bodyguards allegedly gang raped her “repeatedly” in Foya, Lofa county in 1993.
She said before the rapes she had considered Kamara a father figure and claimed that he gave her the nickname “Black Diamond,” because of her dark complexion. But she said she was helpless when the former ULIMO commander allegedly encouraged the act by his silence.
“He was on the porch when the two boys carried me inside,” the witness told the court in a trembling voice. “He was the commander for them. I thought he could stop them. I remained crying, he didn’t talk. He laughed and started speaking his dialect.”
“The thing was repeated. Any time they ready, they did it,” said the witness, now 38, and then broke down in tears, wiping her face with a handkerchief. She said the rebels beat her with guns.
Just as it’s done to other witnesses in this trial, the defense questioned the accuracy of the witness’s testimony.
“He was the commander at the time. When somebody gives order to you and said ‘Do this’, you will go and do it,” she said in answer to questions by lead defense lawyer, Marilyne Secci. The witness also claimed that Kamara and another soldier of his beheaded a man. She also accused Kamara of killing her father by pouring boiling water down his throat.
“He was fasting for seven days,” said the first witness’s sister who also testified. “The very day he was to end the fast was the day they put the water into his mouth. Ugly Boy and others did it. I was begging him to leave my father, but he said no. He poured the boiled water and killed my pa.”
Earlier in the day, the defense argued that Kamara’s charges of forced labor and torture should be dismissed because, they claimed, there was a 10-year statute of limitation by French law.
“No plaintiff has filed a complaint between 2003 and 2013,” said Tarek Koraitem, one of Kamara’s lawyers referencing the year – 2003 – when those became crimes in French law. “That’s why I have considered the acts of torture and barbarism fall under the status of limitation.”
But the prosecution questioned why the defense had raised this argument so late in the trial. The implication was that the defense team was underprepared and were grasping for last minute reprieves.
“I am surprised that this argument comes only during the third week of this trial,” said Aurelie Belliot, a prosecuting lawyer. “As part of the proceedings the issue of statute of limitation was analyzed and decided prior to the opening of the trial.”
The court will decide the motion on Wednesday when the trial continues.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.