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Victims to testify in Swiss war crimes trial of Liberian rebel commander

A photograph from August 2003 shows a bullet-strewn street following a brutal civil war in Monrovia, Liberia. Keystone / Nic Bothma

The trial in Switzerland of a Liberian rebel commander facing allegations of rape, executions and cannibalism has resumed, with Liberian victims set to begin testifying this week in a landmark case under Swiss law.

This content was published on February 15, 2021 - 14:50
Reuters/ts

Alieu Kosiah, 45, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy rebel group, denies all the allegations against him.

He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had been living as a permanent resident. A 2011 law allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. It is Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in civilian court.

Liberia has not prosecuted war criminals from its 1989-2003 conflict and only a handful have been tried in international courts. They include Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor, who was convicted by a UN court for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone and is now jailed in Britain.

Kosiah says he was not present in Lofa county, Liberia, at the time of the crimes he is accused of having committed there. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

About 15 Liberians are due to testify against him, including one whose brother was allegedly beaten to death with batons by rebels under Kosiah’s command. Another alleges he was forced to serve as a child soldier for Kosiah.

Credibility

The presence of the Liberian victims was previously in doubt because of strict Covid-19 measures, with the Bellinzona court barring the public from attending proceedings.

“We are really pleased that the victims can be in Switzerland and can be heard in the courtroom,” said Romain Wavre, lawyer at Civitas Maxima acting for four of them.

“It’s profoundly important in a case like this where the crimes the defendant is accused of rest mainly on the credibility of the plaintiffs.”

Lawyers for the victims have requested anonymity for them to prevent retaliation back home. Hundreds of thousands of people died in Liberia’s civil war and former warlords still hold positions of power there.

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