Rights groups on Thursday lauded the conviction in Paris of former Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara, who was sentenced to life in prison for atrocities committed during the West African country’s first civil war.
Kamara was found guilty on Wednesday of perpetrating torture and “barbaric acts” in 1993 when he was part of a rebel group known as the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) active during the conflict.
One of his lawyers, Maryline Secci, told Reuters in an email on Thursday that she would appeal the sentence.
Kamara has maintained his innocence.
The Paris Criminal Court that delivered its judgment also accused him of complicity in crimes against humanity committed in 1994, the Paris anti-terrorism prosecution office said.
Liberia endured conflicts that killed around 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003, when ex-president Charles Taylor, who seized power in a coup that sparked the rebellion, stepped down.
Thousands of people were mutilated and raped in fighting that involved drugged fighters and child soldiers conscripted by warlords.
A commission was set up in 2006 to probe crimes committed during the war, but critics say its findings have been largely not implemented.
Convictions have been rare and all prosecutions for serious crimes have taken place outside Liberia, rights groups say.
Kamara was arrested in 2018 after an NGO brought his case to the attention of French authorities. His trial was the first in France involving grave crimes committed abroad that are not linked to the Rwandan genocide.
It was possible because France recognizes universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes, allowing for prosecution regardless of where or by whom the act was committed.
“The French court’s verdict is a ray of hope that justice is possible for the victims in Liberia,” associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, Elise Keppler, said in a statement.
During the four-week trial, witnesses described killings, rapes, beatings and torture by members of ULIMO, which fought against Taylor’s army.
Another ULIMO member, Alieu Kosiah, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in Switzerland last year, while Taylor was sentenced for war crimes in 2012, but only for acts in neighbouring Sierra Leone. His son, Chuckie, was sentenced for torture in Liberia by a U.S. court in 2009.