Alieu Kosiah convicted of 21 counts, including rape, deployment of child soldiers and act of cannibalism.
A Swiss court sentenced Liberian rebel commander Alieu Kosiah to 20 years in prison for war crimes committed during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, a move hailed by activists and human rights groups.
The 46-year-old was found guilty of 21 of the 25 charges, including ordering or participating in the murder of 17 civilians and two unarmed soldiers, documents from the Swiss Federal Court in Bellinzona revealed on Friday, in the south of the country.
He was also found guilty of rape, of deploying a child soldier, of ordering looting, inhuman and degrading treatment of civilians and an act of cannibalism.
Characterized by the widespread use of child soldiers, Liberia’s consecutive civil wars – from 1989 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2003 – killed some 250,000 people and displaced more than one million.
Kosiah was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had lived since 1999, for his alleged role in war crimes committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, northwest Liberia. A Swiss law of 2011 allows prosecution of serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The court said in a statement that the 20-year sentence was the maximum it was allowed to pass under Swiss law.
“No mitigating circumstances were taken into account in the sentencing. Expulsion from Switzerland was also ordered for a period of 15 years, ”he said.
Kosiah was also ordered to pay compensation to seven plaintiffs, he added.
It was not immediately clear when the eviction would take place. Kosiah’s sentence includes the 2,413 days, or about six and a half years, that he has already served in pre-trial detention, according to court documents.
“Deterrence for others”
Activists in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, celebrated the verdict.
“It will serve as a deterrent to others around the world. I think justice has taken its course, ”said Dan Sayeh, a civil society activist.
Jefferson Knight, another activist in Liberia, said he hoped the sentence would increase pressure on the government to create a war crimes unit, as recommended by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. years ago.
Kosiah had denied all the charges and told the court he was a minor when he was first recruited into the conflict. He was cleared Friday of attempted murder of a civilian, complicity in the murder of a civilian, looting order and recruitment of a child soldier.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights group, described Friday’s decision is a “milestone for Liberians”.
“More than 20 years after the violations, victims played a pivotal role in securing the first war crimes conviction during Liberia’s civil war,” said Balkees Jarrah, deputy director of international justice at HRW, in a press release.
“The verdict is a breakthrough for Liberian victims and the Swiss justice system in breaking the wall of impunity.”
Former Liberian strongman turned president Charles Taylor was convicted in 2012 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but for atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone, not in his own country.
The verdict in Kosiah marks the first time a Liberian has been convicted – whether in that West African country or elsewhere – of war crimes committed during the conflict.
The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civilian court.