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Swiss court convicts Liberian for war crimes

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A former Liberian rebel commander, Alieu Kosiah, has been found guilty of war crimes in a Swiss court, becoming the first Liberian to be convicted over the country’s civil war.

He was sentenced to 20 years for crimes including murder and rape.

Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s two conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and many thousands more fled.

Switzerland recognises the principle of universal justice, meaning suspects accused of high-profile crimes elsewhere can be tried in its courts.

The trial was the first under a 2011 Swiss law that allows prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. It also marked the first time war crimes charges have been heard by a Swiss civilian court.

Kosiah, 46, fled to Switzerland before being arrested there in 2014.

The 20-year sentence includes the six years he has already served in detention.

He was detained after a civil rights group, Civitas Maxima, presented the Swiss attorney general with evidence of his involvement in war crimes, including the deliberate killing of civilians, sexual violence, abuse of corpses and acts of cannibalism.

Charges against him

The court in the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona found him guilty of 21 out of the 25 charges that he originally faced. These included:

  • ordering the killing of 13 civilians and two unarmed soldiers
  • murdering four civilians
  • raping a civilian
  • repeated orders to loot
  • using a child soldier in armed hostilities

The crimes took place while he was fighting with Alhaji Kromah’s United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy rebel group against Charles Taylor’s troops in the remote Lofa County in the 1990s.

Liberia endured two bouts of brutal fighting from 1989 to 1997, after which Taylor became president, and 1999 to 2003.

Previous convictions
Before Kosiah’s guilty verdict, no Liberian had ever been convicted of crimes committed during the conflict. Taylor was, however, convicted in 2012 of committing war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

He is serving his 50-year sentence in a prison in the UK.

His son “Chuckie” Taylor was sentenced to 97 years in prison in a US federal court in 2009 for torturing and killing people while he was the head of Liberia’s anti-terrorist services.

Ex-warlord Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh has been jailed for 30 years in the US for lying about his past as a leader of a force that carried out multiple murders and acts of cannibalism.

And Sierra Leonean Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi is currently on trial in Finland for alleged crimes committed in Liberia.

Liberia has failed to hold war crimes trials because of a lack of a political will, reports say.

A post-war truth commission did name people who could be prosecuted, but as some have held key government positions a special court has never been established.

BBC/Nneka Ukachukwu

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