Liberian Rebel Convicted of Atrocities in Landmark Swiss Trial

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A rebel commander was convicted of multiple atrocities during Liberia’s civil war a quarter century ago, marking a win for Swiss prosecutors who applied the principle of “universal jurisdiction” to the bloody conflict that killed some 250,000 people.

Alieu Kosiah was found guilty of murder and rape, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday by Switzerland’s top criminal court. It followed a February trial which brought together the defendant and six of his victims for the first time in a courtroom.

Civil war erupted in Liberia in 1989 after rebels led by Charles Taylor invaded the country from neighboring Ivory Coast to oust dictator Samuel Doe. Taylor was elected president, leading to a pause in hostilities, only to flare up again in 2002. The wars became notorious for its widespread use of child soldiers, turing the west African country of 5 million people into something of a pariah.

Kosiah was a rebel leader with the ULIMO movement which from 1991 fought against Taylor’s control of the country. Kosiah was charged with ordering the pillaging of villages, killings of civilians and taking part in the killing himself, rape, and the desecration of a corpse including the eating of a human heart.

Liberian Rebel Convicted of Atrocities in Landmark Swiss Trial

The case was heard in Switzerland both as Kosiah was living there at the time of his arrest in 2014 and because under the concept of universal jurisdiction, a person can be tried for war crimes anywhere. Switzerland’s top criminal court took over responsibility from its military tribunals for trying war crimes a decade ago and this is the first such case.

While Taylor is serving a 50-year prison sentence in a U.K. prison for atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone, no one has ever been tried for war crimes in Liberia, despite repeated calls by local activists, lawyers and traditional chiefs for the establishment of a war crimes court. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated until 2009, also recommended the establishment of a special tribunal.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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