By James Harding Giahyue, Senior Justice Correspondent
A Liberian man has been arrested in France for allegedly committing war crimes during the Liberian civil war. The man only identified as Kunti K., is a naturalized Dutch citizen who is alleged to have been a commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) during the war. His arrest makes him the fourth Liberian living in Europe to be charged with war crimes.
His 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).
Agence French Press report quoted French law enforcement as saying Kunti K. had been charged with torture, murder, slavery, the use of child soldiers, and cannibalism between 1993 and 1997. ULIMO committed 11,500 atrocities, according to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“What is very important for this case is how it includes in a very broader situation where former war commanders or people that allegedly committed war crimes all over the world are facing criminal charges, and 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.”
AFP reported that Kunti was arrested Tuesday in the northeast Paris suburb of Bobigny where he had been hiding out at the home of a friend.
The arrest comes amid a growing chorus demanding a war crimes trial in Liberia.
“This arrest comes at such a crucial time,” said Hassan 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, show 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 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, adding that 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.”
Kunti K., like Johnson, Kosiah and Taylor, is to be tried under International Jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute foreign residents for crimes they allegedly committed in other countries. Tom Woewiyu and Mohammed Jabbateh were tried for United States for immigration offenses based on their war crimes.
“The victims that we represent want justice for the crimes that they suffered,” said Wavre. “And I think actually there is a great call for justice that is going on in Liberia to try the war criminals that are still in Liberia. It is in this context that the arrest of Kunti K. is so important.”