By James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
— Plaintiffs tell the court in war crimes trial
Alieu Kosiah commanded rebels in mid-1993 to kill a school teacher in Foya, Lofa County, and eat his heart, according to testimony in Kosiah’s war crimes trial in this Swiss Alpine city.
The allegation was made by a man, one of the seven victims known in the case as plaintiffs, who brought the complaint against Kosiah, a former general of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). New Narratives has agreed to the plaintiffs’ request to conceal their identities because they fear retaliation.
The plaintiff told the three-judge panel of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court that he was a resident of Foya from 1993 to 1995 when ULIMO occupied the district. He said he witnessed Kosiah and other ULIMO commanders beat teacher David Ndiminin to death in retaliation for him telling a humanitarian delegation that ULIMO had looted the Foya Borma Hospital, a major facility in the district.
The plaintiff said Kosiah and other ULIMO commanders then butchered Ndiminin, ripped out his heart, and ate it. He said the other rebels who took part in the murder of Ndiminin were Kunti K., Daykue, “Mammie Wata,” Fahnboy, and “Ugly Boy.” The plaintiff said Ugly Boy, whose real name was Talata Sheriff, killed the “huge, hairy and handsome” teacher of the Free Pentecostal Global Mission in Foya.
Sherrif went by another alias, “Saah Chue,” a Kissi phrase that translates into “the firstborn with an ax”. “The highest-ranking officer on the ground that day was Alieu Kosiah,” the man told the three-judge panel hearing the case. “He (Kosiah) was furious. He kicked him (Ndiminin). The other ULIMO officers kicked him, too, and they took him at the Foya airstrip,” he said. “They took out his heart and carried it to Ugly Boy’s house. Kosiah received a piece of the heart.” He told the court rebels threw Ndiminin’s body on the runway of the Foya airfield and later civilians buried him in a shallow grave.
The man, 51, is the third of seven alleged victims who brought the complaint against Kosiah, 45, for war crimes to testify in the trial. Called “private plaintiffs” in the Swiss legal system, they are expected to testify throughout this week. Kosiah himself testified in the first phase of the trial last December.
Kosiah is accused of murder, cannibalism, sexual enslavement, recruitment of child-solders, forced labor, and looting in Lofa. Ndminin’s murder is among the crimes he’s accused of committing during the first civil war. The war crimes trial, the first in a civilian court in Switzerland, finally began in December last year after being postponed four times over the coronavirus pandemic.
Kosiah denies the offenses, adding that he was not in the northern county when the alleged crimes were committed. He faces a maximum 20-year sentence.
‘Like Hell Fire’
The plaintiff provided details about “Black Monday” in Voinjama, Lofa’s capital, and “Black Friday” in Foya – two events of mass killings he said were carried out by ULIMO under Kosiah’s orders. The third plaintiff provided a clearer narrative than earlier plaintiffs.
Under Kosiah’s command, the man said, ULIMO was a “danger, carnage, terror, like hellfire and very bad.” The man, who is now a candidate for an advanced degree, appeared composed, confident and concise in his testimony throughout the day. “The inhumane treatment, the desecration of human beings was too much,” he said.
“It’s indescribable. If I were to go through it, I will cry. Those that died, I was not better than them,” he sobbed, burying his head in his hands.
When quizzed by the presiding judge as to why he did not tell French authorities investigating Kunti K. that Kosiah ordered Ndiminin’s death, he said he did not think it was necessary.
Dmitri Gianoli, Kosiah’s lawyer, raised a similar point about the man’s failure to tell Swiss authorities investigating Kosiah’s case in the Swiss city of Bern in 2017 that Kosiah kicked Ndiminin. “Does it erase the fact that Ndominin was killed?” the plaintiff asked, saying he did not think that detail was important at the time.
The trial continues on Thursday with the fourth alleged victim. All seven alleged victims are expected to have appeared by next week. There will then be eight prosecution witnesses and four defense witnesses.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.