Yesterday the media reported that Switzerland has arrested an ex-Liberian rebel commander accused of participating in civilian massacres during the country’s first civil war in the 1990s.
Alieu Kosiah, a former rebel commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), was arrested in November 2014 for his alleged implication in civilian massacres committed between 1993 and 1995 in northwest Lofa County, Liberia.
Kosiah’s arrest makes Switzerland the second European country in recent months to have arrested a Liberian accused of atrocities during Liberia’s two civil wars. A few weeks earlier Martina Johnson, a NPFL Front Line Commander, was arrested in Belgium for her alleged role in wartime atrocities.
Swiss courts have jurisdiction over this case under the long-established international legal principle of universal jurisdiction. According to this principle, national courts may try the ones responsible for serious international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture, even if the crimes were committed abroad by foreigners and against foreigners.
According to Hassan Bility, a prominent Liberian journalist and director of the Global Justice and Research Project that works together with Civitas Maxima to document war crimes and bring perpetrators to justice, “This second arrest is a milestone as it is the first ever case against an ULIMO commander and it reinforces the Liberian demand for impartial justice for all victims.”
During Liberia’s civil war, which lasted for 14 years, from 1989-2003, an estimated 250,000 people were killed. ULIMO, which was formed in the early 1990s, fought Charles Taylor who had set up the conflict by invading Liberia in 1989. Later, ULIMO split into ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, of which Kosiah was a member.
On 30 May 2012, Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for his role in aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Liberia from 30 November 1996 to 18 January 2002. He is currently serving his sentence in a British prison. Ilawyer John Jones QC is representing him in proceedings before the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone.
According to Human Rights Watch in September 2014, the Liberian government has made no effort to criminally investigate and prosecute the many serious crimes in violation of international law committed during its two civil wars despite a recommendation by the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to do so. In its final report in December 2009, the commission highlighted failures in the Liberian justice system and called for the establishment of a hybrid international-national tribunal with Liberian and foreign judges to try past crimes. No existing international tribunals have mandate to prosecute past crimes in Liberia.