Swiss sentence Liberian for war crimes

Emma FargeAAP
Civil war ravaged the West African nation of Liberia during the 1990s.
Camera IconCivil war ravaged the West African nation of Liberia during the 1990s. Credit: AP

A Liberian rebel commander has been sentenced in Switzerland to 20 years in jail for rape, killings and an act of cannibalism, in one of the first ever convictions over the West African country's civil war.

The case was also Switzerland's first war crimes trial in a civilian court.

It involved 46-year-old Alieu Kosiah who went by the nom de guerre 'bluff boy' in the rebel faction ULIMO that fought former President Charles Taylor's army in the 1990s.

Kosiah faced 25 charges, including one where he was accused of eating slices of a man's heart.

He was convicted of that and all but four of the other counts, documents from the Swiss Federal Court showed.

He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had been living as a permanent resident. A 2011 Swiss law allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

A plaintiff in the case who testified that Kosiah ordered his brother's murder urged other Liberians to come forward as witnesses and secure more convictions.

"If you set an example, the other guys will be afraid," he said in a statement via the NGO Civitas Maxima that represented him.

He asked not to be named in media reports for fear of reprisals.

Liberia has ignored pressure to prosecute crimes from its back-to-back wars between 1989-2003, in which thousands of child soldiers became bound up in power tussles exacerbated by ethnic rivalry.

Human Rights Watch called Friday's sentencing a "landmark".

"Switzerland's efforts on this case should help mobilise wider accountability in Liberia as this shows that these crimes can be prosecuted. I see this as an opportunity," the organisation's Elise Keppler said.

Kosiah had denied all the charges and told the court he was a minor when first recruited into the conflict.

His lawyer Dmitri Gianoli said in an email to Reuters that Kosiah was "very disappointed" by the court's decision, saying it had succumbed to media and political pressure.

"Mr Alieu Kosiah will pursue his fight for justice to be served," Gianoli said.

Kosiah was cleared on Friday of attempted murder of a civilian, accessory to the murder of a civilian, an order to loot, and recruitment of a child soldier.

The court said the 20-year sentence was the maximum it was allowed to give under Swiss law.

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