Swiss court postpones Liberia war crimes trial over coronavirus 

Liberia's civil wars took a terrible toll, leaving at least 250,000 people dead and the legacy of atrocities by all sides. Keystone

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court has postponed the long-awaited war crimes trial of former Liberian rebel leader Alieu Kosiah due to the rapid spread of Covid-19.  

This content was published on March 18, 2020 - 12:49

The trial had been scheduled to take place from April 14-30 in Bellinzona, capital of Switzerland’s southern, Italian speaking canton of Ticino. It will be the first international criminal trial in a non-military Swiss court and “historic” according to Swiss group Civitas Maxima, one of the NGOs representing Liberian victims in the case. 

The Federal Criminal Court hopes to reschedule the trial between June and July 2020, according to a recent press releaseExternal link from Civitas Maxima and its Liberian partner, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). They said the decision taken by the Swiss court was appropriate to “safeguard the health of all the trial participants, including the victims who reside abroad”, since Liberian witnesses are being called to testify in the trial. 

Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), is charged with war crimes committed during the first Liberian civil war (1989-1996). He was arrested in Switzerland in November 2014 and has been in pre-trial detention ever since, as Swiss authorities conducted investigations.  

“This is a historical case for both Liberia and Switzerland,” says Civitas Maxima director Alain Werner, one of the two lawyers representing four of the seven plaintiffs who will testify in the trial. 

“This and other cases abroad will encourage victims to come forward, and hopefully encourage the Government of Liberia to establish a domestic war crimes courtExternal link,” says Hassan Bility, Director of the GJRP. 

Liberia has not so far held anyone to account for serious international crimes committed during its civil wars, although there are some cases also in other European countriesExternal link under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra LeoneExternal link for crimes committed in that neighbouring country, and is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a British jail. 

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