Switzerland Indicts Ex-ULIMO General for War Crimes in Liberia


Monrovia – Swiss authorities on Tuesday indicted a former general of the defunct United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) for war crimes allegedly committed in the Liberian Civil War (1989 – 2003) in a landmark case in Switzerland’s judicial history.

Report by James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent

Swiss authorities refused to say the suspect’s name, but Civitas Maxima and Liberia-based Global Justice Research Project which have been gathering evidence in the case, identified him as Alieu Kosiah. Kosiah has been in custody since his arrest in November 2014 but was only on last Friday indicted for war crimes, including murder, rape, torture and inscription of child-soldiers. He denies all charges. 

“The suspect is being accused of violations of the laws of war as a member of a military faction in the context of the internal armed conflict that took place in Liberia between 1989 and 1996,” the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said in a statement reported by France 24 on Tuesday. It added that the investigation into Kosiah’s alleged crimes were “particularly complex due to the lack of cooperation by Liberia”.

Sources say both governments of president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Weah have ignored requests from European investigators to gather evidence inside Liberia for the cases of Kosiah, Agnes Reeves Taylor, Taylor’s ex-wife being tried in the UK, Martina Johnson, of the NPFL facing trial in Belgium and Kunti K. in France—all of whom have been charged in European jurisdictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Liberia’s civil war. 

Kosiah is the second ULIMO ex-general to be charged in connection to the Liberian Civil War. In 2017 Mohammed Jabbateh, alias “Jungle Jabbah” was tried and sentenced to 30 years jail for immigration fraud after a Philadelphia jury found he’d lied to US immigration authorities about his crimes and role during the war.  

While Jabbateh (and Tom Woewiyu, Charles Taylor’s number two in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia) were convicted in the U.S. for immigration offenses, Kosiah is being tried under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, a legal principle that enables countries to try foreign residents for crimes they allegedly committed on foreign soil. It is under this same principle that Martina Johnson and Agnes Reeves Taylor and Kunti K have been charged. 

The case against Kosiah is Switzerland’s first ever on an international criminal offense. Prosecutors say they had heard more than 60 cases since 2011 but have trimmed that number to a dozen currently being investigated. 

Kosiah allegedly committed the crimes between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County. There, the indictment said he mutilated “a 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”. It also alleged that he “aimed at enslaving and terrorizing the population” in the county.  

The case against Kosiah—who has been living in Switzerland since 1997—began after seven Liberians in Liberia alerted Swiss prosecutors of his alleged crimes and filed a case against him, according to victims group Trial International. 

Civitas Maxima, the Swiss-based human rights organization seeking justice of war victims around the world, praised the Liberian survivors of Kosiah’s alleged crimes. “We are proud that the bravery of the victims who testified against Alieu Kosiah is finally being recognized through this trial,” said Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima, and Romain Wavre, its Legal Counsel in a statement. 

An estimated 250,000 people were killed the Liberian Civil War, one of the 20th Centuries most brutal conflicts. 

A Liberian Court 

The trials of Liberians in Europe and America have inspired a resurgence of the implementation of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report that called for a court 10 years ago. 

President George Weah—unlike former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—was not indicted by the report, but has not shown political will to set up the court. He has formed a power bloc with Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba County, one of the war’s “most notorious perpetrators, and has appointed others in key positions in his government. 

However, advocates are seizing an opportunity to remind the government to set up the court. 

“This is a great day for justice in Liberia, a great day for all victims,” said Hassan Bility whose group—Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP)—works with Civitas Maxima. “We use this occasion to call on the Liberian government to take steps in creating a war crimes court in Liberia for the thousands of victims of the civil wars,” he said. 

Adama Dempster of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia praised Swiss prosecutors for the move.    

“No one is above the law, no matter where you committed the crime,” Dempster said. “The indictment of Alieu [Kosiah] is a boost to the national campaign, and it has just sent a greater signal to alleged war crimes perpetrators in Liberia that there will be and there is going to be a day for that they themselves will have to face the full weight of the law.” 

Mandingoes in Civil War 

Krahn and Mandingo refuges fleeing elimination by the NPFL, who saw them as supporters then President Samuel K. Doe, formed ULIMO in May 1991. The group’s founders were Alhaji Kromah, a former Minister of Information and Raleigh Seekie, a deputy minister of Finance both during the Doe regime. The group quickly gained control of the mineral-rich northern and western Liberia. The group later split into ULIMO-K, led by Kromah and ULIMO J, led by the late Roosevelt Johnson. 

The TRC recorded that ULIMO committed the fifth most atrocities during the Liberian civil war, including the killing of 114 young men in Zorzor in March 1993 for allegedly supporting NPFL, and 300 people of the Lorma tribe in Voinjama in July 1993.  

When the group broke up in to Krahn-dominated ULIMO-J and Mandiongo-dominated ULIMO-K, ULIMO-K committed the ninth most atrocities of the war, according to the TRC. That means it committed more crimes than ULIMO-J rival, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) and the Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) of then President Taylor. 

Kromah denied that the group committed crimes during the war when he appeared before the TRC in 2009, and Mandingoes have accused Bility and other prosecutors in the Jabbateh and Kosiah trials of a witch-hunt. 

On March 4, 2015, Lusseini S. Kamara, a Facebook user, posted: “Like we once freed Hassan Bility from incarceration under Taylor’s [government], surely, we shall also fight for our dear brother. Alieu Kosiah’s freedo. Swiss, please free him, [you] have nothing on him.” 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.