Liberian ex-commander faces war crimes trial

A former Liberian rebel commander has gone on trial in Switzerland over alleged atrocities committed during the country’s long-running civil war.

Alieu Kosiah, 45, is accused of murder, rape, recruiting child soldiers and a host of other crimes.

The former rebel commander, who fled to Switzerland before being arrested there in 2014, denies the charges.

Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s civil wars, and many thousands more fled the fighting.

Consecutive conflicts raged in the West African country between 1989 and 2003.

The trial in Switzerland, which began on Thursday, is the first under a 2011 law that allows prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. It also marks the first time war crimes charges have been heard by a Swiss civilian court.

Switzerland recognises the principle of universal justice, meaning people suspected of committing high-profile international crimes elsewhere can be tried in its courts.

Mr Kosiah is the first Liberian to face trial over war crimes committed during the country’s first civil war between 1989 and 1996, according to Human Rights Watch. However, he was not one of the most high-profile militia leaders.

No Liberian has ever been convicted of crimes committed during the conflict. The country’s former leader Charles Taylor was, however, convicted in 2012 of committing war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The trial is being held at the Swiss federal court in the southern city of Bellinzona.

Mr Kosiah was arrested after a civil rights group 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 lists the charges against him as “recruitment and use of a child soldier, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, attempted murder, murder (directly or by order), desecration of a corpse and rape.”

The indictment, seen by Reuters news agency, says Mr Kosiah was involved in the killings of at least 18 civilians and also recruited a 12-year-old as his personal bodyguard.

The crimes allegedly took place while he was fighting with Alhaji Kromah’s United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy rebel group against Charles Taylor’s troops in the remote Lofa County in the 1990s.


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