Liberian warlord goes on trial in Switzerland


A trial opened in Switzerland Dec. 3 for the first Liberian to face war crimes charges over atrocities during the country’s brutal internal conflict in the 1990s. Former warlord Alieu Kosiah stands accused of murder, rape, recruiting child soldiers, and numerous other crimes during the first of Liberia’s two civil wars, which together killed some 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003. Kosiah, who had been living in Switzerland since 1999, was arrested in November 2014 for atrocities he allegedly committed as a commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO) between 1993 and 1995. A group of Liberian victims is being represented by the Swiss human rights group Civitas Maxima. The organization has worked with the Global Justice and Research Project in Liberia since 2012 to document crimes committed during the country’s civil wars. The case is being heard by the Federal Criminal Court in the city of Bellinzona under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Liberia’s former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, who was opposed by ULIMO, was convicted in 2012 of war crimes and crimes against humanity—but over his involvement in the war in neighboring Sierra Leone, not in his own country. A US appeals court in Philadelphia sentenced another ULIMO commander, Mohammed Jabbahteh AKA “Jungle Jabba,” to 30 years in prison this September. But while that trial heard gruesome details of atrocities, Jabbahteh was convicted for immigration fraud.

During Liberia’s twin armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, inclduing mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants. Liberian perpetrators have never been tried in their own country, despite that fact that a truth and reconciliation commission recommended more than a decade ago that a war-crimes tribunal be established.

Switzerland is also said to be preparing a case against Ousman Sonko, Gambia’s former interior minister. Sonko was arrested in Bern this January, on allegations of torture filed by the Swiss branch of the rights group TRIAL International. (HRW, TRT, NYT, SwissInfo, JusticeInfo, BBC News, Front Page Africa)

Photo: IRIN via JusticeInfo

  1. Sierra Leone war crimes suspect on trial in Finland

    The trial of Sierra Leone national Gibril Massaquoi, accused of committing war crimes during Liberia’s second civil war between 1999 and 2003, began Feb. 1 in Findland’s Tampere District Court. Having lived in the Tampere region for the past 10 years as a registered Finnish resident, 51-year-old Massaquoi was detained by the Finnish police last March. His arrest followed the conclusion of an inquiry conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation requesting that Massaquoi be placed in remand custody “on suspicion of murders and aggravated war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in exceptional circumstances.” Massaquoi is believed to have been a high-ranking official in an insurgent group, known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). (Jurist)

  2. German authorities arrest former member of Gambian military

    German authorities on March 16 arrested a former member of the Gambian armed forces in Hanover for his alleged crimes against humanity in the Gambia. An arrest warrant was filed for him on March 3.

    The federal prosecutor’s office alleges that the accused, referred to only as Bai L., committed “crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder.” Bai L. was allegedly a member of a paramilitary team called the “Junglers” from December 2003 to December 2006. The Junglers operated under the orders of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to intimidate civilians, suppress political opposition and kill targets identified by him.

    The Gambia’s current President Adama Barrow announced a truth and reparations commission in 2018 to investigate Jammeh’s crimes. (Jurist)

  3. Liberian warlord convicted in Switzerland

    A Swiss court on June 18 handed down the first conviction over Liberia’s 1989-1996 civil war, sentencing Alieu Kosiah to 20 years in jail for various crimes, including rape, ordering murders, and cruel treatment of civilians. (Jurist)

  4. Germany opens trial of Gambia death squad suspect

    A Gambian man accused of belonging to a death squad appeared in court in Germany on charges of crimes against humanity. The suspect is accused of murder and attempted murder as part of a group that assassinated opponents of dictator Yahya Jammeh. Identified by media as Bai Lowe, the defendant is accused of involvement in a notorious assassination squad known as the Junglers. Arrested in Hanover in March 2021, Lowe is being tried in the nearby town of Celle. (Al Jazeera, DW)

  5. Liberian warlord convicted of crimes against humanity

    The Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland on June 1 upheld former Liberian warlord Alieu Kosiah’s 20-year prison term for war crimes, and additionally convicted him of crimes against humanity—the first such conviction in Switzerland. Kosiah was initially convicted and sentenced for war crimes by the Trial Chamber of First Instance in 2021. In upholding Kosiah’s 20-year sentence, the Federal Criminal Court’s Higher Appeals Chamber affirmed his conviction on 21 counts of war crimes—including rape, murder, and cannibalism—which Kosiah allegedly committed during the First Liberian Civil War that lasted from 1989 to 1996. (Jurist)

  6. German court sentences Gambia man to life for war crimes

    A German court handed down a life imprisonment sentence to Gambian national Bai Lowe on Nov. 30 after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder for his actions with a death squad known as the Junglers, notorious for targeting adversaries of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. The squad’s victims even included an AFP journalist. (Jurist)