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 active during the conflict.
Kamara has maintained his innocence.
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.
It was possible because France recognises 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.
His son, Chuckie, was sentenced for torture in Liberia by a U.S. court in 2009.