Former ULIMO-K General’s Trial Commences on Dec. 3

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Alieu Kosiah, a former ULIMO commander, is alleged to have committed human rights abuses during Liberia's civil war

By Joaquin M. Sendolo

A release from Human Rights Watch indicates that former ULIMO-K General, Alieu Kosiah, will for the first time face the court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, for his alleged role in the Liberian civil war.

Kosiah was arrested on November 10, 2014 in Switzerland by the Swiss Authority, and Human Right Watch says this trial is an important step forward for victims of the brutal Liberian civil war whose plights remain in limbo locally.

He is the first person to be tried for war crimes in a non-military criminal court in Switzerland and is the first Liberian to be put on trial for alleged crimes committed during the first Liberian civil war, from 1989 to 1996.

“The rebel leader Alieu Kosiah’s trial for alleged war crimes committed decades ago, during Liberia’s first civil war, is a powerful message to would-be perpetrators that justice may be slow but it never forgets,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Swiss authorities should ramp up their efforts to pursue additional atrocity cases against other suspects in Switzerland where there is credible evidence,” said the Human Rights Watch official.

Kosiah, who has been living in Switzerland since 1999, is said to have allegedly committed atrocities in Liberia between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County.  The arrest followed criminal complaints against him by seven Liberian victims who are now formal parties to the proceeding referred to as  “private plaintiffs.” Two lawyers from the Swiss nongovernmental group Civitas Maxima, including its Director Alain Werner, represent four of them. The organization has worked with the Global Justice and Research Project in Liberia since 2012 to document crimes committed during the country’s civil wars.

After a nearly five-year investigation, the Swiss Attorney General’s office filed an indictment against Kosiah in March 2019. Swiss prosecutors accuse him of various crimes, including ordering the murder and cruel treatment of civilians, rape, and pillage.

Kosiah’s trial in Switzerland is possible because the country’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law, allowing for the investigation and prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. Universal jurisdiction cases are increasingly important in international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers, Human Rights Watch said.

Since his arrest, Kosiah has been in Swiss custody. His trial was originally scheduled to begin in April but was postponed because the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for the private plaintiffs and seven witnesses to travel from Liberia for the proceeding. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court said that efforts to arrange for their testimony via video link from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital were unsuccessful.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring the safety of witnesses, victims, and judicial staff is a major challenge, Human Rights Watch said. The court in Bellinzona will hear from the defendant during the first phase of the trial, which is scheduled to conclude on December 11. The trial will resume in 2021, though no dates are yet set. The court said it was continuing efforts to arrange for some participants to take part in the proceedings by video link.

“The court in Bellinzona should make every effort to make information about the trial available to the public and communities affected by ULIMO’s many crimes. Inadequate outreach to affected communities can have a direct impact on the success of accountability efforts in relation to serious international crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. 

During Liberia’s armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.

Liberia has not prosecuted anyone for the grave crimes committed during its two armed conflicts. Judicial authorities in the United States, Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom have pursued criminal cases related to Liberia in recent years, often spurred by civil society efforts.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission in Monrovia has on many occasions cautioned the Liberian Government to take steps in addressing accountability for past crimes in Liberia, but the past administration and the one that succeeded have reneged on addressing human rights violations committed during the war.  ULIMO-K that Kosiah served as its notorious general has its ailing leader, Alhaji G.V. Kromah paralyzed in Monrovia.  He had been an Ambassador-at-Large in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration and a university professor at the state-run University of Liberia.  

“However, these cases are not enough on their own and highlight the need for a more comprehensive justice effort to address the accountability gap in Liberia,” Human Rights Watch said.

The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which operated between 2006 and 2009, recommended creating a war crimes court staffed by international and Liberian practitioners – the Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia – to try those responsible for grave crimes. Despite intensified calls for accountability for the crimes, the recommendation for a war crimes court has never been carried out.

“Liberians have repeatedly called for justice for civil war-era crimes, but the Liberian government has failed to deliver,” Jarrah said. “Kosiah’s case and other investigations in Europe show that prosecutions are possible and should be pursued in Liberia.”

Liberian and international human rights advocates have called for Liberian President George Weah to request United Nations assistance to create a war crimes court and released a video appeal that showcases Liberians’ interest in such a court.

Over the past two decades, the national courts of an increasing number of countries have pursued cases involving war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions committed abroad. At the same time, Swiss nongovernmental organizations, former federal prosecutors, members of parliament, and others have criticized judicial officials in Switzerland for lagging behind despite having solid legislation to address serious crimes.

Criticism has revolved around a lack of capacity and political will, undue delays, and allegations of political interference. The supervisory authority that oversees the attorney general’s office has commented on a number of these issues in response to parliamentarians’ questions.

In its 2019 annual activities report, the attorney general’s office reported 13 ongoing international criminal law investigations. In addition to Kosiah, three other people are known to be under investigation: Khaled Nezzar, former Algerian defense minister; Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and former commander of the Syrian Defense Brigades; and Ousman Sonko, Gambia’s former interior minister.

Human Rights Watch reporting in various countries shows that the fair and effective exercise of universal jurisdiction is achievable with the right combination of appropriate laws; adequate resources; institutional commitment, such as dedicated war crimes units; and political will. Political will in particular is necessary for pursuing war crimes cases, given the sensitivities and diplomatic tensions that often arise, especially if high-ranking foreign officials are the subject of investigations.

“Universal jurisdiction laws are a key backstop against impunity for heinous abuses, especially when no other viable forum for justice exists,” Jarrah said. “The start of the Kosiah trial moves victims closer to accountability in a credible process for the crimes committed against them during Liberia’s civil wars.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. Switzerland and many other western countries are nations with institutions set in place to combat the bad behaviour of mankind from self destruction. No one goes unpunished for violating any code of these institutions regardless of race or creed. Unlike Liberia, we undermine our very own constitution established to governed us as civil society, what much more about respecting institutions that has little or no bearing on civil society? We will destroy ourselves because our leadership takes no responsibility to punished those that undermined our civil institutions set in place to be our guardians because of friendship and loyalty. A nation without civil institutions is doom to violence and total destruction and Liberia is no exceptional to this.

    Other nations are punishing liberians for crimes they committed in Liberia that has nothing to do with their country and we Liberians are rewarding Liberians for same crimes committed in Liberia which speaks volume to our level of stupidity and self center about how we perceive ourselves as nation rather than bunch of syndicates seeking public office to enriched themselves. The narrative about caring for the people is total nonsense and inviting violence again because, there are group of elements with in the country that being rewarded for bad behaviour and will repeat this again if we are not mindful on how we governed ourselves.

    Switzerland is punishing these war lords for crimes against humanity in another country regardless of where. Crimes committed against another human being is violation to the very existence of the victim in question, being part of mankind. This notion absolutely closed every avenues for criminals to be rescue in Switzerland and should discourage people from committing crimes in times of civil disputes. The question is, will Liberia follow the same path like Switzerland to justice?

  2. The fact that Kosiah fled out of the country proves that he is worse than a coward. Here is a guy who according to reports, was a mastermind of vicious perpetrator of evil against his compatriots. When the time came in order for him to fess up like the evil guerrilla he professed to be, he slipped behind the skirts of women and sought refuge in Europe. What a jerk! Kosiah has met his match!

  3. Yes, it is great that after years of INACTION by international actors, some international actors have resolved to invoke such international legal provisions as universal jurisdiction, as sanctioned by the international human rights doctrine as obligationes erga omnes, and Common Article 3 …A Treaty In Miniature of International Humanitarian Law.

    The wheels of justice are generally slow, but they are absolutely sure!! When their (NPFL, AFL, LPC, LURD, MODEL, LDF, CDF, ULIMO KILLERS) war lords were giving them the impression that there were no laws governing armed conflicts, little did they know that laws governing armed conflicts far far far prior to the advent of contemporary international law, and that they rebel killers were doomed to be trapped by universal jurisdiction, obligationes erga omnes, and the laws governing armed conflict, especially Common Article 3 of international humanitarian law.

    Universal jurisdiction, one of the five bases of jurisdictions of states under international law is that jurisdiction or principle which unlike the other principles or bases of jurisdiction strictly limited to a direction connection between the crime alleged and the state claiming jurisdiction, DOES NOT REQUIRE SUCH A CONNECTION.

    The universal jurisdiction or universality principle is based on the fact that the state exercising jurisdiction, actually within the states jurisdiction and the state has custody of the person held for his individual criminal accountability either of crimes under the national law (Swiss criminal law, etc.), of another state (Liberias criminal law, etc.), or of crimes under international law (Common Article 3, Int human rights law, international criminal law, etc. etc) Korsiah is in violation of all three individual criminal accountabilities!

    Obligationes erga omnes is simply the obligation of any state to protect and defend human rights ANYWHERE as a matter of the international legal doctrine of ACTIO POPULARIS …AN INDIVIDUAL SUIT ON BEHALF OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY!

    In the case of the third trap, Common Article 3 A Treaty In Miniature of International Humanitarian Law, those war lords, together with their commanders, and rebel killing combatants failed to take into account the fact and law that persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated HUMANELY, without any adverse distinction founded on ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, etc.etc.

    So when those bastards were there killing innocent people simply based on their tribe or ethnicity, and even killing their war enemies who have laid down their arms, or were detained, little did they know that they(NPFL, AFL, LPC, LURD, MODEL, LDF, CDF, ULIMO KILLERS) were doomed as is the case with Kosiah etc. doomed! For the wheels of justice are generally slow, but absolutely sure!

  4. Liberia: Town Wants Kromah Tried Like His Ex-Generals

    GBESSEH TOWN, GRAND CAPE MOUNT COUNTY – In 1995 ULIMO-K stormed Gbesseh Town in Grand Cape Mount County and killed at least 25 people, including two relatives of 49-year old Duaman Konteh, who was present at the time of the attack. Konteh’s relatives and other villagers were hacked, and many others shot while they slept in that midnight raid on this fisherman’s town on the shore of the Lake Piso, some 45 miles north of Monrovia.

    Konteh says he and other villagers escaped into the nearby bushes, some standing in a swamp surrounding the town until morning. He says they had to bury the dead in several mass graves because the ULIMO-J rival faction attacked the town again that same day, accusing the residents of supporting ULIMO-K.

    Fourteen years after the Gbesseh Town Massacre, Konteh and other survivors want to see Alhaji G.V. Kromah, who led ULIMO, prosecuted in a war crimes court. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended in 2009 that Kromah, and more than 100 members of warring factions face the court. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not follow this recommendation nor has President George Weah supported it.

    Three ex-generals of ULIMO have been sentenced and indicted in Europe and America in connection for crimes they allegedly committed during the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003). However, Kromah has yet to be tried. Mohammed Jabbateh, alias “Jungle Jabbah”, who commanded ULIMO in Cape Mount, is serving a 30-year sentence in the United States for lying about his role in the war when he applied for asylum in 1998. Kunti Kamara and Alieu Kosiah have been indicted in France and Switzerland, respectively, over their alleged roles in the war.

    “Let Kromah face justice for what he did, because there is no concert reason Alhaji Kromah ordered his soldiers to slaughter our people because we were only [unarmed] civilians…” “If I have the power now, for a war crimes court to come here, I will bring it, because there is no reason why those people would kill our people and be passing around here boasting of doing it.”

    According to the TRC, ULIMO and other warring factions carried out 24 massacres (including this one) in Grand Cape Mount County, the third most it recorded. Only Lofa, with 32 massacres and River Cess, with 30, recorded more according to the TRC. ULIMO also ravaged towns and villages Bomi, Gbarpolu and Bong, where it operated during the war, the report said.

    Kromah and the late Raleigh Seekie, a former Deputy Minister in the Samuel K. Doe regime, founded United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, in May 1991. Predominantly made of members of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, the rebel group entered Liberia in September that same year and fought the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor. In 1994, internal division split the group into ULIMO-K, led by Kromah and ULIMO-J, led by the late Roosevelt Johnson.

    According to the TRC, ULIMO committed 11,564 crimes during the war, the fifth most atrocities committed by any warring faction according to the TRC. Among ULIMO’s crimes were massacres, rapes, murder, torture, recruitment of child soldiers and slave labor. The TRC also reported that ULIMO-K committed 6,049 crimes, while its ULIMO-J rival committed 2,646 of the crimes.

    Kromah denies that his forces ever committed atrocities during the war.

    “Let me tell you about my soldiers, whenever they were smoking and saw me coming, they used to put the cigarettes into their pockets, so I could not see it,” he tells FrontPage Africa in a weak, low voice in the livingroom of his Congo Town residence.

    Kromah’s yard, which was once packed with people, when it hosted Kromah’s party headquarters during his 2005 presidential campaign, is now deserted. A concrete pavement runs from the black gate that enters the yard that leads to the stairway of his run-down house. A palaver hut to the right side of the yard is surrounded by overgrown grass.

    “That is how disciplined they were. Let me tell you something, there were a lot of stories during the war, but most of my people were Muslim and if it was difficult for them to kill chicken then how much about killing a human being?” says Kromah, who appears frail and hands seem curved in, as two men had helped him walk and to sit for the interview.

    Kromah says he remembers one of his rebels only known as Senegalese, who Konteh and other villagers say led the Gbesseh Town Massacre and ate the heart of his victims, with a preference for the hearts of those who were light skinned. Witnesses in the trial of Mohammed Jabbateh also told a Philadelphia court that ULIMO rebels had eaten the hearts of their relatives. Senegalese is one of the war’s “most notorious perpetrators” whom the TRC recommended to be tried for war crimes.

    Asking about allegations leveled against Senegalese by the Gbesseh Town people, Kromah said his soldiers never ate human hearts.

    “This eating heart business is a fake story,” claims Kromah. “I am a Muslim, and we usually say prayers before slaughtering chicken or any animal, because we feel sorry for the animal, so just imagine if we do that to chicken, how much more to kill a human? I am not saying my soldiers were 100 percent perfect, but the statement they are making is far from the doing of my soldiers.”

    Unless he travels outside of Liberia, Kromah can only be tried for war crimes by a war crimes court for Liberia, says Hasssan Bility of Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). Jabbateh was tried by a U.S. federal court for immigration offenses, and Kosiah and Karmara indicted for war crimes under the legal doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction in Europe, he adds.

    Bility and other local, and international advocates are calling on the Liberian government to set up the court to try Kromah and others listed in the TRC report a decade ago.

    That advocacy is gaining momentum at the Legislature as just over a week ago, Representative Rustorlyn Suacoco Dennis, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Claims and Petitions, disclosed that nine of 73 representatives have signed a resolution for the establishment of the court.

    Bility urges survivors of the Gbesseh Town Massacre to rally their lawmakers for the court. “Those who are calling for the court should bring pressure to bear on their lawmaker, and the time is now. Tomorrow will be late”.

    Back in Gbesseh Town, other villagers, like Konteh, remember the massacre and demand justice.

    “When the bullet hit my eight-year-old son, his intestine came outside and he died later because there was no hospital,” recalls Koikor Fahnbulleh, 67. “If he was living, he would have been 32 years old. So if they bring the war crime court to Liberia, I will be satisfied, because the killers will face justice,” he says

    Old lady Majama, who sat in front of her fire hearth, trapping her chin in one hand that rests on her knee says, speaking about the massacre saddens her heart.

    “My father, my son and my daughter, I lost all of them. My father’s heart was taken out of him, as for my daughter, they shot her and my son, so my heart is still hurting up to now,” she says. “If everybody supports war crimes, I will also support it,” she says of the war crimes court.

    Mustapha Rogers, a youth leader, who was a boy at the time when the massacre happened, says the town will never forget.

    “Even when you go behind the school building in the savanna, you will still find bones of dead people who were killed that day and were not buried,” Rogers says.

    “Therefore we the youth are saying we want war crimes court to come to Liberia,” he says. “ULIMO-K did all that killing, they were wicked. Therefore, let the people bring the war crime court, so those people who did all the killing would face justice.”

    CULLED FROM FRONTPAGEAFRICA

  5. Alieu Korsiah went on feigning tears and telling the Swiss Court how he was a founding member of ULIMO, and how furtively tried to escape Liberia to save his life.

    Korsiah , we want you to tell the court how you killed, torture, and did all manner of criminal things to your victims.

    Do not fool yourself to believe that your crocodile tears and your history of a wicked rebel group ULIMO will prevent you from the same punishment your accomplices are enjoying.. Look, what you people did to our poor people of Gbesseh.

    You people are very wicked. And you and your commander Alhagi Kromah displayed your wickedness on our poor via muslims in Gbesseh because they were not Madingo Muslims.

    Now, there is Alhaji Kromah paralysed paying for his wickedness, and you there fooling yourself with crocodile tears. You will stay in jail for the rest of your miserable life.

  6. But let him Alieu Korsiah pour enough crocodile tears as he can. But one thing is very clear is that Article 7 (2) (b) of the StGB Switzerland demands that the suspect shall have committed an especially serious crime that is generally condemned by the international community.

    And those crimes committed by him Alieu Korsiah which are torture, rape, murder, slavery, etc.etc. are the very serious crime that is generally condemned by the international community under Article 7 (2) (b) of the StGB of the Switzerland law for which he may get a life sentence. So he can bore himself with how he escape and why he escape, as if such rants are relevant.

    They never thought they would one day brought to book. As for Alhaji Kromah, let him sit there and delude himself that any judge or prosecutor would buy his bull dung about “I am a Muslim, and we usually say prayers before slaughtering chicken or any animal, because we feel sorry for the animal, so just imagine if we do that to chicken, how much more to kill a human? I am not saying my soldiers were 100 percent perfect, but the statement they are making is far from the doing of my soldiers.”

    Kromah, if even the judge who will be judging you and your accomplices is not 100 percent, do you expect the judge or anyone to expect you and your fellow savages to be 100percent?? You must be thinking we are as those people children who were burning themselves with cigarettes because you Kromah was coming as you are here boasting. Allah does not sleep, Kromah. There your best friends Emmanuel Bowier and Morris Dukuly are playing with their grand children while you are there beginning to pay for your sins and crimes.

  7. And those crimes committed by him Alieu Korsiah which are cruel treatment of civilians, torture, rape, murder, slavery, etc.etc. are the very serious crimes which ARE generally condemned by the international community under Article 7 (2) (b) of the StGB of the Switzerland law for which he may get a life sentence. So he can bore himself with how he escaped and why he escaped, as if such rants are relevant.

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