Liberian gets 20-year jail term for war crimes

The Swiss Federal Criminal Court today announced a guilty verdict and 20-year prison sentence for Alieu Kosiah, a former Liberian rebel commander, after a four-week trial held in December 2020 and February 2021, following years of investigation which started in 2014.

The former Liberian battalion commander of the ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy) rebel faction during the First Liberian Civil War was found guilty in relation to all but 4 counts.

Kosiah was sentenced to 20 years in prison, from which his over 6 years of pre-trial detention will be deducted, and was ordered to pay over 50,000 CHF to the seven plaintiffs who testified against him.

The crimes for which Kosiah is convicted include: ordering the killing of 13 civilians and 2 unarmed soldiers; murdering four civilians; raping a civilian; ordering the cruel treatment of 7 civilians; infringing upon the dignity of a deceased civilian; repeatedly ordering the cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment of several civilians; repeatedly inflicting cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment on several civilians; repeated orders to loot, and using a child soldier in armed hostilities.

The crimes for which Kosiah is acquitted include: recruiting a child soldier; attempted murder of a civilian; complicity in a civilian murder; and giving orders to loot in one instance.

Notably, Kosiah was found guilty of rape, which is the first time that an individual has been directly convicted for sexual violence committed during the Liberian Civil Wars.

Given how widespread sexual and gender-based violence was during Liberia’s two Civil Wars, such judicial recognition is long overdue, and is a significant achievement for the victim who testified bravely against Kosiah, both during the investigative stage and at trial, as well as the countless other victims of conflict-related sexual violence in Liberia and across the world.

This historic trial set precedents for both Switzerland and Liberia: as the first universal jurisdiction and war crimes case in Switzerland before the Federal Criminal Court, and the first ever trial of a Liberian national for war crimes committed during the two Liberian civil conflicts that ravaged the country for 14 years.

In February 2021, while Switzerland was in a peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, six of the seven brave plaintiffs testifying against Kosiah travelled from their homes in rural Liberia to the small town of Bellinzona in Switzerland’s Southern Canton of Ticino. The seventh plaintiff was able to travel as far as Monrovia, Liberia, to testify via video link.

“I did it out of love for my country and for the love of my brother that I lost during the war,” declared one of the plaintiffs who testified in Court in February and whose brother was brutally murdered by Kosiah along with six other civilians.

“The only thing that I have to say to Liberians is that we should leave this culture of silence, where we are afraid of voicing out. If we continue to fear to voice out against what these people have done, then they will not know that what they have done is wrong. They will continue to do it […] Testifying will serve as a message to those who may want to follow these steps.

“Even after twenty years, a person is brought to justice to face the consequences of his actions. […] If you set an example, the other guys will be afraid. The message I want to send today is that let us have the courage – I know it is very hard to do – to go for justice. Voices can be heard, the wounds can be healed by justice. Let us forget about somebody chasing us, let’s go to justice”.

Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) pay tribute to the incredible resilience and courage of the Liberian plaintiffs in this case who overcame so many obstacles to testify. In spite of intimidation and threats, they did not back down. They pursued accountability, and today achieved justice.

These plaintiffs have contributed in a spectacular way to the worldwide quest for justice for the many forgotten Liberian victims of the wars, who have been let down both by the international community and their own government.

The use of extra-territorial jurisdiction has enabled investigations, prosecutions, and trials all over the world. In addition to Kosiah’s trial in Switzerland, two trials were held in 2017 and 2018 in the United States; the trial of a former Sierra Leonean rebel commander is currently ongoing in Finland; and another former Liberian rebel commander is listed for trial in France in October 2022.

 “The bravery of all these Liberian victims is exemplary” said Hassan Bility, Director of the GJRP in Monrovia. “It is time now for the Liberian Government to hear this quest of justice, and finally comply with the recommendations of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2009, and ensure we put an end to impunity for war crimes in Liberia”.

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP also commend the Judges of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court who conducted the trial in a resolute and impartial manner, and the Swiss Federal prosecutors who brought this case all the way to trial.

Civitas Maxima