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Swiss court confirms historic war crimes ruling against Liberia warlord

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A Swiss court upheld a guilty verdict for war crimes in the case of a former Liberian rebel commander and convicted him of crimes against humanity in a landmark case.

Alieu Kosiah, who fought in the 1990s against then-President Charles Taylor’s army, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2021 for rape, murder and cannibalism in Switzerland’s first ever war crimes trial.

Those charges and others were upheld by the court although he was acquitted of ordering and inflicting cruel treatment, the Swiss Federal Court’s appeal bench said in a statement. Four of his acts were deemed crimes against humanity – a term reserved for the most serious, systematic attacks.

The three-judge panel sentenced Kosiah to 20 years in prison and expelled him from Switzerland for ten years after his term is up.

As well as being a first for Switzerland, the verdict is one of the only examples of justice for acts committed during Liberia’s back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003 which became infamous for their brutality, with marauding child soldiers and drugged-up fighters.

“The courage and the determination of the victims who fought relentlessly for 30 years has been rewarded. Justice was handed down today and this is a strong message for all perpetrators: they will not escape justice,” Zena Wakim, one of the prosecution lawyers, told Reuters.

Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer for the prosecution and director of NGO Civitas Maxima, which has worked on the case since 2014, called it a “great day for these incredibly brave Liberian victims”.

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The trial was often heavy with emotion as some Liberian witnesses and victims confronted Kosiah for the first time since the wars. One of them who was raped by Kosiah as a child broke down during testimony.

Kosiah’s lawyer denied the charges against him throughout the proceedings and said he was not present when the crimes were allegedly committed.

He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had been living. A 2011 Swiss law allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere.

Liberia has never tried its warlords and some still hold prominent roles in society.