Alieu Kosiah was found guilty of 21 charges, including rape, deployment of child soldiers and an act of cannibalism.
A Swiss court has sentenced Liberian rebel commander Alieu Kosiah to 20 years in prison for war crimes during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, a sentence well received by activists and human rights groups.
The 46-year-old was found guilty of 21 of the 25 charges, including those of ordering or participating in the killing of 17 civilians and two unarmed soldiers, according to documents released by the Swiss Federal Court in the city of Bellinzona, to the south.
He was also found guilty of rape, of having deployed a child soldier, of ordering looting, inhuman and degrading treatment of civilians and of an act of cannibalism.
Characterized by the rampant use of child soldiers, the back-to-back civil wars in Liberia (1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003) killed some 250,000 people and displaced more than a million.
Kosiah was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he has lived since 1999, for his alleged role in war crimes committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, northwestern Liberia. A 2011 Swiss law allows for the 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 that could be handed down under Swiss law.
“No circumstance was taken into account in mitigating the sentence. He was also ordered deported from Switzerland 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 deportation would take place. Kosiah’s sentence includes 2,413 days, or about six and a half years, which he has already served in pretrial detention, according to court documents.
“Bollard for others”
Activists in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, celebrated the verdict.
“It simply came to our notice then. I believe that justice has followed its course, ”said Dan Sayeh, a civil society advocate.
Jefferson Knight, another activist in Liberia, said he hoped the ruling would add increasing pressure for the government to create a war crimes unit, as recommended by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee years ago.
Kosiah had denied all charges and told the court he was a minor when he was first recruited into the conflict. On Friday, he was informed of the attempted murder of a civilian, in addition to the murder of a civilian, the looting order and the recruitment of a child soldier.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights group, described Friday’s ruling as a “reference step for Liberians.”
“More than 20 years after the rapes were committed, the victims played a vital role in getting the first war crimes conviction during Liberia’s civil war,” Balkees Jarrah said in a statement. director of international justice associated with HRW.
“The verdict is a step forward for the victims of Liberia and the Swiss justice system to break down 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 his own country.
The verdict handed down in Kosiah marks the first time a Liberian has been convicted, either in the West African country or elsewhere, of war crimes committed during the conflict.
The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civil court.