Alieu Kosiah was a commander of a faction of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) between 1993 and 1995. The ULIMO, which operated in Western Liberia since 1991, fought against the National Patriotic Front led by Charles Taylor during the First Liberian Civil War. The group managed to gain control over certain areas in the region, including Lofa county.
While Kosiah served as commander of the ULIMO, mass atrocities were committed by the ULIMO fighters. Kosiah allegedly directed and participated in the commission of systematic killings, rapes and forced labour of civilians in the Lofa county.
At the end of the Liberian Civil War in 1997, Kosiah moved to Switzerland, where he obtained permanent resident status.
In 2014, seven persons living in Liberia, assisted by the NGO Civitas Maxima, alerted the Swiss Attorney General of Kosiah’s alleged crimes and filed a complaint against him. In August 2014, the Swiss Attorney General decided to open an investigation against Kosiah.
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. In particular, he is accused of having systematically targeted attacks against civilians. On 13 November 2014, a Swiss judge ordered that the accused be placed in custody where he remains. Switzerland has jurisdiction over the alleged crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction, which is a fundamental principle of international law, enshrined in the relevant 2011 Swiss law.
During the investigation victims and witnesses accused Alieu Kosiah of committing acts of sexual violence, recruiting child soldiers, looting, ordering and participating in forced transport of looted goods and ammunition, forced labour of civilians in cruel conditions, ordering and committing murder, and for acts of cannibalism.
On 22 March 2019, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland presented an indictment against Alieu Kosiah to the Federal Criminal Court. The suspect is accused of violations of the laws of war as a member of a military faction in the 1989-1996 Liberian war.
On 31 October 2019, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court set Kosiah’s trial from 14 to 30 April 2020 in Bellinzona (canton of Ticino). On 25 November 2019, the Federal Criminal Court dismissed the complaint accusing him of participation in a massacre committed by the ULIMO.
The trial due to start in April 2020 was postponed four times because of covid-19. In December 2020, the first hearing of the accused took place. The rest of the trial is expected to start in February 2021. Seven plaintiffs as well as nine witnesses are expected to be heard in court.
Kosiah is the very first former ULIMO member to be arrested and charged with international crimes committed during the Liberian Civil War. He is the first person to be tried for war crimes in a non-military criminal court in Switzerland