All seven Liberians who filed the war crimes lawsuit against Alieu Kosiah in Switzerland are asking for 8,000 Swiss Francs or roughly LD1.5 million each in compensation.
“In Switzerland, they would have been entitled to 100,000 Swiss francs for moral injury,” said Alain Werner, one of the lawyers, in his final argument before the Swiss Federal. “As the cost of living in Liberia is 12 times lower, we are claiming 8,000 Swiss Francs in compensation for each of our constituents.”
Six of the seven plaintiffs were flown in from Liberia and testified before the court’s three-judge panel for two weeks, beginning February 15.
They have since been flown back to Liberia. The lone female testified via videoconference from an undisclosed location. New Narratives has reached an agreement with the court not to name any of the plaintiffs and any other witnesses in this trial over concerns of their safety.
They are least likely to get the money as the request is only symbolic and meant to follow Swiss legal procedure. Also, Mr Kosiah does not have such an amount.
The plaintiffs accuse Mr Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), of murder, cannibalism, rape, sexual enslavement, forced transportation, looting and inscription of child-soldier between 1993 and 1995. He denies all the charges against him, saying he was not in Lofa when the alleged offences were committed.
Mr Kosiah was arrested in 2014, indicted in 2019 and his trial started in Bellinzona last December. Prosecution, plaintiffs and defence lawyers will argument throughout this week, and a date of the verdict will be announced at the end of Friday.
He faces a maximum 20-year imprisonment term.
The ‘most ruthless’
The lawyers said he is the “most ruthless” ULIMO fighter in their final argument on Tuesday in the closing stages of a trial that has produced an array of former ULIMO rebels and tales of unspeakable horror.
Their pleadings followed that of prosecution lawyer Andreas Müller on Monday, who asked presiding Judge Jean-Luc Bacher give Mr Kosiah the maximum sentence and expel him from Swiss soil for 15.
“He (Kosiah) deserves to be named the most ruthless of ULIMO commanders,” Werner said. “The plaintiffs cited events of sheer terror which are not in this case: the story of human meat being distributed to the population in wheelbarrows.”
“Everywhere Alieu Kosiah went, he did not played by the rules and took advantage of every situation,” said Hatkim Maleh the lawyer of another plaintiff. “Even in an anarchic war like the one in Liberia, even within the ULIMO, and he was present in all the excesses.”
The lawyers recounted the testimonies of their clients and some of Mr Kosiah’s own witnesses telling the court he was in Lofa and he is guilty of all of the crimes he is accused of.
They further told the court Mr Kosiah killed and ordered murders, ate the heart of a schoolteacher, masterminded looting in towns and villages, forced civilians to transport looted items to Guinea, raped a 16-year-old woman, the recruited a 12-year-old child-soldier.
“Civilians were the good, like material goods, of ULIMO soldiers,” said Romain Wavre who works with Werner at Civitas Maxima. The group works with the Global Justice and Research Project based in Monrovia. “They needed manpower so they took the men. They had sexual needs to meet so they took women. They needed soldiers who blindly obeyed so they took children.”
Mr Werner asked the judges to put themselves in the plaintiffs’ shoes.
“Imagine, we show up at your place, we kill one or the other member of your family, we take all your belongings in big suitcases and we put them on your head to sell them in Italy,” Mr Werner told the judges hearing the case. “And all the while, what’s left of your family is worries, and if you come back you don’t know when it’s going to start again.”
The lawyers also told the court to convict Mr Kosiah for recruiting the 12-year-old child-soldier though he did not file a complaint against his former boss. “Children are part of the ULIMO terror machine,” Mr Wavre said.
Raphaël Jakob, the lawyer of another plaintiff, attacked Mr Kosiah’s assertion that he was not in Lofa at the time of the alleged offence, the defendant strongest defence.
Mr Jakob said the plaintiffs’ testimonies corroborated a number of Liberian newspaper articles, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and international reports.
He said Mr Kosiah was present in Lofa at the time.
“If we take a few events that punctuate this time, we see that as soon as there is a power vacuum or a ceasefire, he is there to set the country on fire and blood, he has always been there to loot, massacre, profit from looting, to frustrate any attempt to restore peace in Liberia,” Mr Jakob said.
The trial continues on Wednesday with Mr Jakob and the other plaintiffs’ lawyers.
This report was produced in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.
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