Alieu Kosiah: Liberian convicted of war crimes in Swiss court

Alieu Kosiah has been found guilty of war crimes in a Swiss court, becoming the first Liberian to be convicted over the country’s civil war.

He was sentenced to 20 years for crimes including murder and rape.

Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s two conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and many thousands more fled.

Switzerland recognises the principle of universal justice, meaning suspects accused of high-profile crimes elsewhere can be tried in its courts.

The trial was the first under a 2011 Swiss law that allows prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. It also marked the first time war crimes charges have been heard by a Swiss civilian court.

Kosiah, 46, was a former rebel commander, who fled to Switzerland before being arrested there in 2014.

The 20-year sentence includes the six years he has already served in detention

He was detained after a civil rights group, Civitas Maxima, presented the Swiss attorney general with evidence of his involvement in war crimes, including the deliberate killing of civilians, sexual violence, abuse of corpses and acts of cannibalism.

The court in the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona found him guilty of 21 out of the 25 charges that he originally faced. These included:

  • ordering the killing of 13 civilians and two unarmed soldiers
  • murdering four civilians
  • raping a civilian
  • repeated orders to loot
  • using a child soldier in armed hostilities

The crimes took place while he was fighting with Alhaji Kromah’s United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy rebel group against Charles Taylor’s troops in the remote Lofa County in the 1990s.

Liberia endured two bouts of brutal fighting from 1989 to 1997, after which Taylor became president, and 1999 to 2003

Liberia’s civil war:

Charles Taylor led the rebellion in 1989 and went on to be president
  • Liberia endured two bouts of brutal fighting in 1989-1997 and 1999-2003
  • Charles Taylor led an uprising against President Samuel Doe, who himself had taken power in a coup in 1980
  • Doe was executed in 1990 by a rebel group led by Prince Johnson
  • Some 250,000 people were killed in the fighting overall
  • Thousands more were mutilated and raped
  • Taylor was elected president in 1997 after a peace deal
  • The war was reignited in 1999 when two new rebel groups emerged
  • Taylor stepped down and went into exile ahead of a peace deal in 2003


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