By Emma Farge
GENEVA – A Liberian rebel commander was sentenced Friday in Switzerland to 20 years in prison for rape, murder and act of cannibalism, in one of the first sentences ever handed down for the civil war in the West African country.
The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civilian court. It involved Alieu Kosiah, 46, who bore the nom de guerre “bluff boy” in the rebel ULIMO faction which fought the army of former President Charles Taylor in the 1990s.
Kosiah faced 25 counts, including one where he was accused of eating slices of a man’s heart. He was convicted of this and all but four of the other counts, according to documents from the Swiss Federal Court.
He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he resided as a permanent resident. A Swiss law of 2011 allows prosecution of serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
A plaintiff in the case who testified that Kosiah ordered the murder of his brother urged other Liberians to come forward as witnesses and get more convictions.
“If you set an example, the other guys will be afraid,” he said in a statement via the NGO Civitas Maxima which represented him. He asked not to be named in the media for fear of reprisal.
Liberia ignored the pressures to prosecute the crimes of its back-to-back wars between 1989 and 2003, in which thousands of child soldiers found themselves embroiled in power struggles exacerbated by ethnic rivalries.
Human Rights Watch called Friday’s conviction a “landmark.”
“Switzerland’s efforts on this case should help mobilize greater accountability in Liberia as it shows that these crimes can be prosecuted. I see this as an opportunity,” said Elise Keppler of the group.
Activists in the Liberian capital Monrovia celebrated the verdict. “It will have a chilling effect on others around the world. I think justice has taken its course,” said Dan Sayeh, a civil society activist.
Kosiah had denied all charges and told court he was a minor when he was first recruited into the conflict.
Her lawyer Dmitri Gianoli told Reuters in an email that Kosiah was “very disappointed” with the court’s ruling, saying she had succumbed to media and political pressure. “Mr. Alieu Kosiah will continue his fight for justice.”
Kosiah was cleared Friday of attempted murder of a civilian, complicity in the murder of a civilian, looting order and recruitment of a child soldier.
The court said the 20-year sentence was the maximum it was allowed to pass under Swiss law.
“No mitigating circumstances were taken into account in the conviction. Deportation from Switzerland was also ordered for a period of 15 years,” he said. Kosiah was also ordered to pay compensation to seven plaintiffs, he added.
A court spokesperson later clarified that he would not be deported until his sentence was served. The roughly 6.5 years Kosiah has already served in pre-trial detention will count towards the sentence, court documents say.
Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes in 2012, but only for acts committed in neighboring Sierra Leone. Her son, Chuckie, was convicted of torture in Liberia by a US court in 2009.
Liberian rebel sentenced in Switzerland for war crimes and cannibalism
SourceLiberian rebel sentenced in Switzerland for war crimes and cannibalism