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Switzerland Finds Liberian Rebel Leader Guilty of Wartime Atrocities

Switzerland Finds Liberian Rebel Leader Guilty of Wartime Atrocities

GENEVA – A former Liberian warlord was found guilty on Friday of war crimes, including murder, cannibalism and use of child soldiers, by a Swiss criminal court – the first conviction specifically for atrocities committed during the wars civilians in Liberia between 1989 and 2003 in which a quarter of a million people are thought to have died.

The court found former warlord Alieu Kosiah, 46, guilty of 21 of the 25 charges against him, including ordering the murder of 13 civilians and two unarmed soldiers, the murder of four other civilians, as well as rape and cruel treatment of civilians. and the use of a child soldier in armed hostilities. Mr. Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberian Liberation Movement for Democracy, or ULIMO, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence permitted by Swiss law.

“This is a landmark judgment, not only because it is the first war crimes conviction against a Liberian commander, but because it shows that it is possible to convince a court with testimonies from victims , even almost 30 years after the fact, “said Alain Werner. , the director of the Geneva legal organization Civitas Maxima, who was instrumental in the arrest of Mr. Kosiah and who represented some of the plaintiffs.

Switzerland recognizes universal jurisdiction, which makes it possible to prosecute serious crimes committed in other countries. The trial, held in the Alpine town of Bellinzona, was the first time that Swiss federal courts have prosecuted war crimes in the decade or so since they took over the jurisdiction of military courts.

For the victims who waited seven years for the case to reach the courts and traveled to Switzerland to testify, Werner said, the judges’ verdict was “a great victory for their courage, resilience and quest for justice “.

Human rights groups also viewed the trial as a landmark event for Liberia and Switzerland. No Liberian perpetrator of atrocities has been prosecuted in Liberia despite President George Weah’s repeated vague expressions of his willingness to establish a war crimes tribunal to that end.

In a trial that lasted over a month, the court heard gruesome testimonies about summary executions and torture of civilians during Liberia’s first civil war and how Mr. Kosiah forced Liberians to go on arduous treks as porters, carrying looted goods to their own farms and villages.

A woman testified by video that she was raped by Mr. Kosiah and that she later gave birth to her child. Witnesses also described how one of Mr. Kosiah’s associates, known as Ugly Boy, cut open the chest of a church teacher and tore and cut his heart, which he, Mr. Kosiah and their associates then ate.

Mr Kosiah was living in Switzerland when he was arrested in November 2014 and has already spent six years in pre-trial detention, which will be deducted from his sentence. Upon his eventual release, he will be expelled from Switzerland for 15 years.

Lawyers and human rights groups hope the conviction will boost international investigations and prosecutions for other war crimes, possibly even in Liberia.

Mr. Kosiah’s trial is one of many cases brought before European courts on the basis of universal jurisdiction. A Finnish court is pursuing another case involving judges traveling to remote villages in Liberia and Sierra Leone to hear testimony in the trial of Gibril Massaquoi, a former senior member of a Sierra Leonean rebel group who fought in Liberia.

France announced in April that next year he would try Kunti Kumara, another former ULIMO commander, also accused of murder, torture, rape and other atrocities.

The contrast between war crimes prosecutions outside Liberia and the country’s lack of justice has put increasing pressure on Liberian leaders to do more to hold perpetrators accountable, said Philip Grant, director of TRIAL International, another Swiss-based legal group prosecuting crimes.

Legal organizations hope the outcome of this case will also galvanize change in Switzerland, where lawyers say the image of a country where the Geneva Conventions were established contrasts with a weak record in prosecuting international crimes.

Switzerland was an early player in international justice matters. It prosecuted a Rwandan war crimes suspect in 1999, the first such case outside of Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and in 2011 it passed a law allowing cases of universal jurisdiction to be prosecuted. .

But federal authorities have provided limited staff and funds for typically long, complex and expensive investigations, and lawyers say Switzerland has lagged far behind other European countries in recent years.

“If you had to rely only on government authorities, very little would have happened,” Grant said. “Without non-governmental organizations and civil society, these cases would be nowhere. “

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