Alleged Victims Tells Swiss Court Kosiah Ordered Killings, Looting

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The Federal courthouse in Bellinzona, Switzerland where the war crimes trial of Alieu Kosiah is being held. (Photo: FrontPage Africa/James Harding Giahyue)

James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent

The plaintiff said he was dragged a good distance and stabbed in the back. He showed the court a long scar down his back. He said he still feels pain in his arms. The plaintiff said he was saved from execution when one of the ULIMO generals intervened deciding instead, to press him into service for ULIMO. The plaintiff said he was the only survivor.

After his ordeal, the plaintiff said ULIMO forced him to join them, trained him in Bomi County, and brought him back to Foya to fight. As a rebel, he witnessed more atrocities committed under Kosiah’s command.

The plaintiff told the court he saw Kosiah and other commanders of ULIMO— Daykue, “Mammie Wata” and “Ugly Boy”— order the looting of the Foya powerhouse. The rebels placed parts of the powerhouse’s generator into an engineless truck along with palm oil, coffee and cocoa they had taken from villagers. They forced civilians to push it, and another broken-down van packed with looted goods, to Sorlomba, a six-hour walk to the Guinea border crossing. One ULIMO rebel “shot and killed one of the civilians who said he was tired.”  

“Kosiah did nothing,” the plaintiff, now in his 50s, told the court during nine hours of testimony.

Kosiah, a former commander of ULIMO, is accused of ordering murders, recruiting a child soldier and theft among other crimes. He is the first Liberian to be prosecuted for war crimes connected to the country’s civil war that left an estimated 250,000 people dead and a million displaced between 1989 and 2003.

Kosiah, 45, admits he was a high-ranking officer of ULIMO but denies any wrongdoing. He says he was not in Lofa when the alleged crimes occurred. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence, the maximum penalty under Swiss law.

Emotions Interupt the Court

Tuesday’s hearing was marked by emotion on both sides as the plaintiff wept recalling the events from 1993. Kosiah’s frustration with the process was again on display.

The plaintiff wept as he narrated the murder of his third cousin on “Black Friday”. The day became notorious in the Kissi area for the figthing that took place between militias. Kosiah broke the news to the victim that his cousin, who was a brother of the ULIMO commander “Mammie Wata”, had been killed in a gun battle with the Lofa Defense Force.

“He was like a guardian to me,” the plaintiff cried, fighting back tears with his face in his palms.  

Dmitri Gianoli, Kosiah’s lawyer, quizzed the plaintiff about his memories of those events in an effort to cast doubt about his account. Gianoli asked the man on which hand Kosiah wore a glove. The plaintiff had told investigators in 2017 that Kosiah wore a glove on his right hand. But during Gianoli’s cross examination he said he could not remember.

Kosiah, who had been composed until that point, burst into the proceedings as he had done the day before. “It has been six years!” he yelled in French, jumping to his feet. “It has been six years!” Gianoli attempted to calm him, and the court went for an impromptu break.

Gianoli highlighted inconsistencies in what the plaintiff told French investigators and what he said in the proceedings Tuesday about who stabbed him. The man initially told Swiss investigators in 2017 that it was Kosiah who stabbed him but told French investigators—on the case against alleged Liberian war criminal Kunti K. in Paris—that it was Kunti who did. The plaintiff blamed his inconsistencies on a lack of sleep and the accents of the investigators questioning him.

The trial, the first war crimes trial outside of a military court in Switzerland, began in December after being postponed four times over the coronavirus pandemic. It is divided into two phases. The first phase featured Kosiah’s testimony and the second defense and alleged victims.

The plaintiff on Tuesday was the second. The court will hear from 17 more witnesses, including five alleged victims, eight prosecution witnesses, and four defense witnesses during the trial’s remaining weeks.

The proceedings continue tomorrow with the third of the seven victims, referred to in the Swiss legal system as “private plaintiffs.” 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

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