A former Liberian rebel commander was sentenced to 20 years in jail by a court in Switzerland for war crimes including murder and rape, in one of the first ever convictions over the West African country’s civil war.
Alieu Kosiah is a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy faction, a rebel group that participated in the First Liberian Civil War which fought against the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, led by Charles Taylor.
After the war, Kosiah, 46, moved to Switzerland, where he obtained permanent residence. Swiss authorities arrested him in 2014.
Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s two conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and many thousands more fled.
Switzerland recognises the principle of universal justice, meaning suspects accused of high-profile crimes elsewhere can be tried in its courts.
The trial was the first under a 2011 Swiss law that allows prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. It also marked the first time war crimes charges have been heard by a Swiss civilian court.
He was detained after a civil rights group, Civitas Maxima, presented the Swiss attorney general with evidence of his involvement in war crimes, including the deliberate killing of civilians, sexual violence, abuse of corpses and acts of cannibalism.
The court in the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona found him guilty of 21 out of the 25 charges that he originally faced. The 20-year sentence includes the six years he has already served in detention.
Before Kosiah’s guilty verdict, no Liberian had ever been convicted of crimes committed during the conflict. Taylor was, however, convicted in 2012 of committing war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
He is serving his 50-year sentence in a prison in the UK.
His son “Chuckie” Taylor was sentenced to 97 years in prison in a US federal court in 2009 for torturing and killing people while he was the head of Liberia’s anti-terrorist services.
Ex-warlord Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh has been jailed for 30 years in the US for lying about his past as a leader of a force that carried out multiple murders and acts of cannibalism.
And Sierra Leonean Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi is currently on trial in Finland for alleged crimes committed in Liberia.
Liberia has failed to hold war crimes trials because of a lack of a political will, says BBC Liberia reporter Jonathan Paye-Layleh.
A post-war truth commission did name people who could be prosecuted, but as some have held key government positions a special court has never been established. (Source: BBC)