BELLINZONA, Switzerland – Seven plaintiffs write a page of Swiss and Liberian history as Alieu Kosiah is convicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
On June 1, 2023, after 4 weeks of hearings between January and February 2023 – the Appeals Chamber of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (FCC) found Alieu Kosiah, former Liberian commander of the rebel faction ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy), guilty of multiple counts of war crimes and multiple counts of crimes against humanity. He was also handed down a prison sentence of 20 years.
Alieu Kosiah is the first person to be convicted of crimes against humanity in Switzerland. This ruling will set a precedent by establishing that crimes against humanity committed before 2011 can be prosecuted in Switzerland, as it was the first time the Appeal Chamber had to rule on this question.
The Appeals Chamber also confirmed the FCCs initial decision. In 2021, the FCC handed down Switzerland’s first ever war crimes conviction, as the first time a Liberian citizen was convicted for such crimes.
Mr Kosiah already spent over 8 years in prison during the trial, which will be deducted from his sentence. It was also decided that Mr Kosiah must pay reparations to each plaintiff.
The conviction relates to crimes committed during the First Liberian Civil war (1989-1996), between 1993 and 1994. These acts include: ordering the killing of 13 civilians and 2 unarmed soldiers; murdering 4 civilians; raping a civilian; ordering the cruel treatment of 7 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; repeated orders to loot and using a child soldier in armed hostilities.
The confirmation of the first conviction for an act of rape committed during Liberia’s First Civil War is of great importance in light of the scale of the sexual violence committed during the country’s conflicts. It is also an immense testament to the victim of this act who had the courage to testify, as well as to all the countless other victims of sexual violence linked to armed conflicts around the world.
Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) also pay tribute to the incredible resilience and courage of all the Liberian plaintiffs. They pursued their quest for justice with great dignity and determination, despite intimidation, threats and obstacles, including the Ebola epidemic at the start of the proceedings (2014-2015) and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2021.
These Liberian victims have obtained justice in Switzerland thanks to the principle of universal jurisdiction, recognized under Swiss law, and the fact that Alieu Kosiah has resided in the country for over 20 years. They have consistently expressed their deep gratitude to the Swiss authorities throughout these proceedings, both to the prosecutors and to the judges.
Civitas Maxima and the GJRP in turn salute the work of the Swiss judiciary. According to Alain Werner, lawyer and Director of Civitas Maxima, who, together with Romain Wavre, represented 4 of the 7 plaintiffs in this case: “The Swiss justice system and administration as a whole have proven that it is possible to prosecute international crimes in Switzerland, and to do so in a fair and effective manner even for acts committed over 7,000 kilometers away. This gives great hope for the development of universal jurisdiction, in Switzerland and elsewhere.“
So far, all the victims of the atrocities committed during the Liberian civil wars have had to leave their country to search for justice abroad – such as in Switzerland, the United States, France, Finland, Belgium and elsewhere. It is high time that the Liberian government listened to this quest for justice and finally set up its own justice mechanism, where the crimes were committed, in Liberia.
Hassan Bility, Director of the GJRP, stated from Monrovia: “This historic judgment is a testament to the incredible resilience and tenacity of the victims of the wars in Liberia. They have been completely forgotten by their own government, which has still not set up a justice mechanism, almost 35 years after the start of the first civil war. The Liberian government must finally comply with the recommendations of the 2009 Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and put an end to impunity for crimes committed during the war, before it’s too late”.