The Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland on Thursday upheld former Liberian warlord Alieu Kosiah’s 20-year prison sentence for war crimes and 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 confirming 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.
Kosiah appealed his original war crimes convictions, requesting an acquittal. He denied all the charges, claiming that the allegations against him were part of a conspiracy and that he was not present during for purported offenses. Nevertheless, the court ruled out the possibility of a conspiracy against Kosiah and rejected the claim that he was not present during the war.
Kosiah, who moved to Switzerland after the war, had been living in Switzerland as a permanent resident. He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland on the basis of a 2011 Swiss law that allows individuals to be prosecuted for war crimes committed worldwide under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.
Balkees Jarrah, Associate Director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), described the verdict as a “landmark step for Liberians” that serves as “a breakthrough for Liberian victims and the Swiss justice system in cracking the wall of impunity.”
While Liberia saw violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the Liberian civil wars, the country has not prosecuted anyone or instituted a war crimes court. As Jarrah stated, while “[u]niversal jurisdiction cases can be a vital – albeit narrow – route to justice for victims who have nowhere else to turn… Switzerland should build on the Kosiah trial and pursue similar cases, but Liberian authorities bear the primary responsibility to fill the massive accountability gap for brutal crimes committed during the country’s civil wars.”