By James Harding Giahyue, with New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
BELLINZONA, Switzerland – War crimes suspect Alieu Kosiah shot and killed a teenage boy in Voinjama in 1994, a man claiming to have witnessed the incident, told the Swiss Federal Criminal Court on Saturday.
The 43-year-old—the sixth of seven “plaintiffs” to testify to Kosiah’s guilt since his trial began in December last year—told the three presiding judges that Kosiah led a gang of rebels on a weekly killing spree, a routine that he called “Black Monday.” Kosiah invented the weekly killings of civilians as retaliation for the death of one of his men at a battle with the Lofa Defense Force, a militia formed to avenge their kinsmen, in Zorzor.
The boy who was murdered had refused to join other civilian captives in a car, the witness said.
“Kosiah asked ‘Are you not going?’ The boy said, ‘I am not going,’” the witness told the court. “He took the pistol and shot the boy. They left the boy there and took off.”
Black Mondays only ended when Kosiah’s superiors in the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) ordered him to stop the killings, the plaintiff said. The event has been the focus of nearly all of this week’s witnesses. These witnesses have distinguished that event from “Black Friday,” which they say happened in Foya.
The murder of the boy is one of 18 murders Kosiah is charged with. The former general of ULIMO is also accused of looting, forced transportation, rape, sexual enslavement, recruiting of a child-soldier and cannibalism. Instances of eating human hearts, including that of a schoolteacher have been detailed in the proceedings this week. Kosiah denies any wrongdoing, saying he was not in Lofa County during the time the crimes were allegedly committed. He faces a maximum 20-year imprisonment if convicted here in the central European country that borders Austria, France, Germany and Italy.
At one point the witness pointed to the army green jacket that Kosiah was wearing in the courtroom. He said it looked like the one that Kosiah had worn when he killed the boy. Kosiah, who had yelled interjections during the testimonies of earlier witnesses, did not look at the witness and instead flipped through pages of a large file on his table.
In his appearance on Saturday the sixth plaintiff also told the court Kosiah ordered two Krahn fighters beheaded in Voinjama when ULIMO split into two. The group had been established in May 1991 by refugees and runaway soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). It entered Liberia four months later via Lofa and gained ground against the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by future president Charles Taylor. But in 1994, a leadership dispute led to two factions—ULIMO-K, led by Alhaji Kromah and ULIMO-J by Roosevelt Johnson. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found the division was eventually “fatal” to both organizations.
“Kosiah told the rebel to slaughter them,” he said, adding that “War Bus,” a Mandingo ULIMO fighter, cut off the heads of the prisoners of war. They displayed the head of one of the men at their checkpoint in Kolahun.
The plaintiff, who is now a teacher, said he was forced to carry looted goods for ULIMO on two occasions. He said many young men were forced by rebels under Kosiah’s command to carry coffee, cocoa and palm oil stolen from villagers to ULIMO camps.
In the first incident, the plaintiff said Kosiah’s men allegedly commanded him and 10 other civilians—including his brother—to carry palm oil, cocoa and coffee from Voinjama to a town five hours away at the Guinea border.
He told the three-judge panel hearing the case that Kosiah ordered the transport. “He told his soldiers ‘Anyone who tried to escape, kill the person and bring the report to me,’” the teacher told the court of Kosiah he said sat on porch of a building where the items were kept. He carried a six-gallon container of palm oil, guarded by rebels armed with AK-47 rifles, rocket-prepared grenades (RPG) and machines guns, he added. His brother managed to escape before they reached their destination. (He died of natural causes in 2009.)
The second time the plaintiff said he was forced to transport looted goods was for a two-day journey from Voinjama to Sorlumba on the Guinea border. The group was made up of 10 civilians who were guarded by 17 rebels, including “War Bus” and six child-soldiers. He said he and the other captives had only a handful of rice in the two days and had no rest between their daylong walk from the county’s capital to Kalahun, midway in the journey.
Wearing a yellow shirt and jeans, the man sang a Mandingo song he claimed Kosiah and his men sang when they occupied Lofa.
“Sister Musu, lie on my back let’s go and do our work. In 1990, we were running away. Now we return as lions.” They referred to guns as “Sister Musu,” he said. It was the same song that the fifth witness had recited for the court the day before becoming emotional as he tried to sing it.
Responding to prosecution questions about the TRC and why he did not tell his story there, the sixth plaintiff said he would have loved to tell the TRC his story but the commission’s statement takers did not offer him an opportunity. He said he joined the case brought against Kosiah in Switzerland, with the support of victims group Civitas Maxima and its Liberian partner Global Justice Research Group “because I want justice,” he said. “If you don’t have money in Liberia, you don’t get justice.”
His testimony corroborated that of the five other plaintiffs who testified last week, most of whom had flown in from Liberia to testify. New Narratives has agreed to the plaintiffs’ request to conceal their identities because they have a credible fear of retaliation for their role in this case.
The sixth plaintiff was one of two witnesses who identified Kosiah in a photo of ex-ULIMO commanders in a pretrial investigation in the Swiss capital of Bern in 2015.
Kosiah’s lawyer Dmitri Gianoli made a number of attempts to poke holes in the man’s testimony, part of the strategy he has used throughout this trial to raise doubt in the prosecution’s case. The man had clear answers for every question.
In one instance, Gianoli asked the man why he could not escape while allegedly transporting the items. The man said he did not escape for fear that NPFL rebels in the area could mistake or accuse him of being a ULIMO fighter.
“But I thought you said ULIMO controlled Lofa,” Gianoli pressed him. “They only controlled the central towns, not the bushes,” the man replied.
In another, Gianoli questioned him on the canoes used to transport the items at Sorlumba across the Makona River into Guinea. The defense attorney sought to prove that his version of the story did not corroborate with earlier witnesses who spoke about ferries. However, the man said the goods he spoke of were light enough for canoes.
Having told the court that he did not know any ULIMO rebels other than Kosiah and War Bus, Gialoni quizzed him on whether he knew a long list of rebels—“Deadly Prey,” “Scarred Faced Kaba,” Daykue, “Sixty Kpannah, “Captain One Eye,” “Deadly Killer,” and “Mammie Wata,” to name some. The witness answered no to each name.
Seven Liberians filed the case against Kosiah who in November 2014. He has been in custody ever since, an unusually long prison wait for a trial, a point Kosiah himself raised in earlier outbursts. The seven are called “private plaintiffs” under Swiss law. The last of them is expected to testify visually from an undisclosed location in Monrovia on Tuesday. Eight prosecution and four defense witnesses are expected to testify before the trial ends on March 5.
Kosiah is the first Liberian to face trial for crimes allegedly committed in the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003), which killed an estimated 250,000 and displaced a million. It is also historic in Switzerland, the first of such case in a civilian court. Switzerland’s only other war crimes case was held in 2001 when a military court found Fulgence Niyonteze, a former mayor of an Rwandan town, guilty for his role in the country’s 1994 genocide and sentenced him to 14 years.
Kosiah’s trial will continue on Monday, with the defendant taking the witness stand once again to be cross-examined by prosecution lawyer Andreas Müller and plaintiffs’ lawyers Alain Werner and Romain Wavre.
This report was produced in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.