The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland, headed by Michael Lauber, has finally approved the trial of a former front line commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that participated in the Liberian civil war (1989-2003).
ULIMO commander Alieu Kosiah prosecution is coming after five years of investigation.
This landmark case involving Alieu Kosiah, according to Civitas Maxima, an independent legal representation of victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is the first of its kind for a member of ULIMO to be indicted for alleged war crimes, and to be tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.
In a press release posted on its website on March 27, 2019, the OAG said after nearly five years of criminal investigation, OAG is presenting for the first time an international criminal law related indictment to the Federal Criminal Court (FCC).
According to the release, the suspect is being accused of violating the laws of war as a member of a military faction in the context of the internal armed conflict that took place in Liberia between 1989 and 1996.
“After nearly five years of investigation, particularly complex due to the lack of cooperation by Liberia, and despite the facts of the case being distant in time, the OAG could, however, carry out the hearing of more than 25 witnesses and benefit from international legal assistance from seven states or international organizations.
“Now, the OAG is able to submit the indictment to the FCC. The defendant is accused of having ordered the murder respectively murdering or participating in the murder of civilians and soldiers hors de combat, desecrated a corpse of a civilian, raped a civilian, ordered the cruel treatment of civilians, recruited and employed a child soldier, ordered several pillages and ordered and/or participated in forced transports of goods and ammunition by civilians. The defendant has allegedly committed these crimes between March, 1993 and the end of 1995 as a member of a military faction.
“This indictment, which was filed before the FCC on March 22, 2019, must be placed in the context of the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes. The presumption of innocence of the accused is guaranteed until the final judgment has been pronounced. A soon as the indictment is filed, the FCC alone will be competent to provide any further information,” the OAG release added.
Meanwhile, Civitas Maxima Director Alain Werner and Legal Counsel Romain Wavre, both lawyers representing several victims, stated that this case is another step towards the greater goal of justice for Liberia.
“We are proud that the bravery of the victims who testified against Alieu Kosiah is finally being recognized through this trial. It is important for the victims to know that if they talk, they will be heard,” both lawyers said in a statement.
Hassan Bility, Director of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), stated that: “This is a great day for justice in Liberia, a great day for all of the victims. We use this occasion to call on the Liberian government to take steps in creating a war crimes court in Liberia for the thousands of victims of the civil wars.”
War crimes charges against Alieu Kosiah, who had been living in Bern, western Switzerland since 1997, grew from complaints filed by Alain Werner on behalf of seven Liberian victims who accused him of sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, looting, ordering and participating in the forced movement of looted goods and ammunition, forcing civilians to work in cruel conditions, ordering and committing murders, and carrying out acts of cannibalism.
According to the website Trial International, Kosiah was arrested in Bern on 10 November 2014 for his alleged participation in the war crimes committed in Western Liberia between 1993 and 1995.
Kosiah was arrested on the basis of Switzerland’s universal jurisdiction law, which gives its national courts jurisdiction over international crimes perpetrated by individuals on Swiss territory, irrespective of where the crimes were committed and regardless of the nationality of the victims or of the perpetrators.
The prosecution of Kosiah is the second by a European State against a former warlord of Liberia, the first being that of Martina Johnson, former head of Charles Taylor’s heavy artillery unit.
Civitas Maxima, the organization that filed the case, has been working since 2012 with its Liberia-based sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) to document crimes committed during the civil wars.
The case against Kosiah was originally initiated by Liberian survivors of the war, supported by Civitas Maxima and the GJRP, who filed criminal complaints against Kosiah.