Ongoing proceedings for international crimes committed during the first Liberian civil war (1989-1996). This marks the first time a Liberian national was tried for war crimes in relation to the Liberian civil wars, and the first time the Swiss Federal Criminal Court held a war crimes and crimes against humanity trial.
Type of jurisdiction
Alieu Kosiah, Liberian national, former commander of the armed group the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO)
Country of residence of suspect
Crimes against humanity; war crimes, including murder, rape, inhumane treatment, looting and the recruitment and use of child soldiers
Sentenced to 20 years in prison;on appeal
During the first Liberian civil war (1989-1996), Kosiah joined the armed group ULIMO, which gathered supporters of former President Samuel Doe. The ULIMO carried out attacks against former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s NationalPatrioticFrontofLiberia.
According to his judgment, Kosiah ordered or participated in the murder of civilians and soldiers hors de combat, desecrated the 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. He committed these crimes between March 1993 and the end of 1995 as commander of the ULIMO.
In July and August 2014, seven Liberian victims, assisted by the NGO Civitas Maxima, filed a complaint in Switzerland against Kosiah for his participation in war crimes and systematic killings committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County (northwestern Liberia). An investigation for war crimes was opened in August 2014.
On 10 November 2014, Kosiah was arrested in Switzerland. On 13 November 2014, a Swiss judge decided to hold him in pre-trial detention.
On 22 March 2019, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland presented an indictment against Kosiah to the Federal Criminal Court, alleging that Kosiah violated the laws of war as a member of a military faction in the 1989-1996 Liberian war, including through acts of sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, lootings, ordering and participating in the forced movement of looted goods and ammunitions, forcing civilians to work in cruel conditions, ordering and committing murders and carrying out acts of cannibalism.
The trial was due to begin in April 2020 but was postponed four times because of Covid-19. The trial began on 3 December 2020, and from 15 February to 5 March 2021, the plaintiffs and the witnesses were heard, and the lawyers made their final pleadings.
On 18 June 2021, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona found Kosiah guilty of 21 counts of war crimes including: ordering the killing of 13 civilians and two unarmed soldiers; murdering four civilians; raping a civilian; ordering the cruel treatment of seven civilians; infringing upon the dignity of a deceased civilian; repeatedly ordering the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of several civilians; repeatedly inflicting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on several civilians; and repeated ordering to loot, and using a child soldier in armed hostilities.
The four counts of war crimes for which Kosiah was acquitted include recruiting a child soldier; attempted murder of a civilian; complicity in a civilian murder; and giving orders to loot in one instance.
Kosiah was sentenced to 20 years in prison, from which his over six years of pre-trial detention will be deducted, and he was ordered to pay over CHF 50’000 to the seven plaintiffs who testified against him.
Developments in 2022
On 2 September 2022, following the plaintiffs’ appeal regarding the inclusion of charges of crimes against humanity, the OAG filed an amended indictment against Kosiah to include charges of crimes against humanity.
The appeal trial began in January 2023 and will last for several weeks. It is taking place before the Federal Criminal Court, in Bellinzona, Switzerland.