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Historic Trial of Liberian Civil War Rebel Commander Kicks Off

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Alistair Sinclair/AP


Historic Trial For War Crimes in Liberia

Accused of having committed barbaric acts between 1993 and 1995 during the civil war in Liberia, the doubly historic trial of the former Liberian rebel commander Alieu Kosiah began on Thursday in Switzerland where he had been in exile for twenty years.

Incarcerated since 14 November 2014, the 45-year-old Alieu Kosiah appeared before the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona accompanied by his court-appointed lawyer Dimitri Gianola.

Although the proceedings are not behind closed doors, the number of seats in the courtroom is extremely limited in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Questioned by the president of the court Jean-Luc Bacher, Kosiah — who is the first individual to be tried for war crimes by a civil court, stressed that he had been in prison "for six years and a month" and denied all the charges brought against him,

Justice for Liberia Overdue

Both former warlord and president Charles Taylor — who also played a significant role the aforementioned conflict, was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Liberia's neighbour Sierra Leone in 2012.

However, no Liberian is yet to be convicted in Liberia or abroad for crimes committed during the West African country's civil war — which saw 250,000 people lose their lives between 1989 and 2003.

Most of the commanders of the various armed groups fled the country after the war.

Kosiah, who had been living in Switzerland since 1999 according to HRW, was arrested following criminal complaints by victims.

Child Soldiers in Civil War

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the victims, who reside in Africa, will not be heard before 2021. This is deplored by the organisation Civitas Maxima, which represents some of them.

"This is a case where Kosiah claims that they are all lying and that he did not commit any crime. We want this contradictory debate to take place," Romain Wavre, a lawyer at Civitas Maxima, told AFP.

The Swiss federal prosecutor's office accuses Alieu Kosiah of having committed, between 1993 and 1995, as a member of the armed faction ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy), a faction of armed groups hostile to the movement of Charles Taylor (the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL), several offences constituting "war crimes". Namely: recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, attempted murder, murder (directly or by order), desecration of a corpse and rape.

War Crime "Impunity"

In France, the anti-terrorist prosecutor's office recently requested a trial by jury against another former Liberian rebel commander, Kunti K., accused of acts of torture.

"Alieu Kosiah and Kunti K. were two of the commanders of the same armed group - ULIMO - and were fighting at the same time in Lofa County in northern Liberia," said Wavre of Civitas Maxima.

More than fifteen years after the end of the conflict, many of the personalities directly involved in the civil war still hold important positions in the spheres of political and economic power.

The recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report published in 2009 have largely gone unheeded, particularly in the name of peacekeeping.

"There is enormous frustration among many victims in Liberia because there is complete impunity in that country when it comes to the prosecution of war crimes," deplored the director of Civitas Maxima, lawyer Alain Werner.