The attention of this newspaper is drawn to a front page story by Daily Observer reporter Robin Dopoe carried in its March 27, 2019 edition under the headline, “Switzerland to Prosecute Ex-ULIMO Commander for War Crimes in Liberia”.
According to the story the Attorney General of Switzerland, Michael Lauber has finally approved the trial of a former front line commander, Alieu Kosiah, of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that participated in the Liberian civil war (1989-2003). His trial comes after 5 years of intensive investigation by Swiss authorities.
The story furthers that according to Civitas Maxima, the trial of Kosiah is a landmark case as it is the first time ever that a member of the defunct ULIMO warring faction has been indicted to be tried in a Swiss Federal Criminal Court. The information which was revealed in a post on the website of the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) said this is the first time an indictment based on international criminal law has been presented to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court, (FCC).
According to the indictment, Kosiah 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”.
Further, according to the indictment, Kosiah allegedly committed these crimes between March, 1993 and the end of 1995 as a member of a military faction known as ULIMO. Moreover, the OAG maintains that this case must be placed within the context of the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes.
The Daily Observer indeed welcomes the initiative taken by the OAG to indict Kosiah for the commission of War Crimes during the course of the civil war in Liberia. This newspaper notes that since the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented its report in 2009 to the Liberian government, the report was virtually shelved by President Sirleaf.
Perpetrators of some of the worst kind of human rights abuse not only continue to go with impunity but have been rewarded with appointments to plum jobs or have won seats in the national Legislature while their victims, betrayed and ignored by their government continue to suffer in silence.
In its report the TRC identified 23 types of human rights violations committed during the civil war. Noteworthy is the fact the TRC documented over twenty-eight thousand (28,000) killing violations which ranked next to forced displacement as the second largest category of violations. The violations included: Forced Displacement, Killing, Assault, Abduction, Looting, Forced Labor, Property Destruction, Robbery, Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Rape, Extortion, Exposure/Deprivation, Forced Recruitment, Sexual Abuse, Missing, Gang Rape, Sexual Slavery, Ingesting Taboo Item, Cannibalism, Drugging, Multiple Rape, Amputation, making it a total of one hundred sixty-three thousand six hundred fifteen (163,615) violations.
Amongst the crimes committed, the TRC noted that “perhaps, the most shocking crime committed against children was their cannibalization. Rebel commanders organized cooking feasts and served children’s body parts, including their intestines and hearts. The blood of children was collected and cooked into soups in which hearts were served as choice meats for cannibalistic commanders. In other instances, children’s body parts were sold in open markets. The names and identities of several rebel commanders who cannibalized and forced children to be cannibals were identified by children and youth during TRC hearings/meetings and other sources”.
In the case of Alieu Kosiah who, according to the indictment had been living in the Swiss capital, Bern, charges against him grew from complaints filed against him by Alain Werner head of Civitas Maxima on behalf of seven 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”.
Kosiah, according to the Daily Observer quoting a Civitas Maxima press release, was arrested in Bern on 10 November 2014, “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”.
This newspaper recalls that the election of George Weah as President had raised high hopes for accountability for past abuses given the apparent inability and reluctance of former President Sirleaf to pursue full accountability. Moreover President Weah, then an ordinary citizen but world renowned footballer, paraded himself as a flag bearer of peace and reconciliation and a crusader for justice. Those hopes, as things now appear, have been dashed to the chagrin of many Liberians carrying the wounds and scars mental and physical of the 14-year civil conflict.
This newspaper, as always, must remind President Weah of the inherent dangers posed to sustainable peace and stability in this nation by his continued inaction on issues of accountability, be it for war crimes or economic crimes.
Victims’ pent-up frustrations, exacerbated by a declining economy and harsh economic conditions, coupled with a growing wave and pattern of lawless behavior and mindless violence against perceived political opponents by supporters of President Weah could serve to unleash dormant social forces which could, more likely than not, lead to the self-undoing of this government.
The lingering question is will President Weah follow in the footsteps of his predecessor who encouraged impunity and who his officials blame for the nation’s current economic woes? We hope not. But President Weah appears not to be listening to good counsel and the nation wonders why. As The Holy Bible in the Book of Proverbs 12:15 reminds us in the following words “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice”.