The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civilian court. It included 46-year-old Alieu Kosiah, who went from nom de guerre’s “bluff boy” to the ULIMO rebel faction that fought former President Charles Taylor’s army in the 1990s.
Kosiah faced 25 charges, including one in which he was accused of eating slices of a man’s heart. He was convicted of this and all other charges, except four, showed documents from the Swiss Federal Court.
He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had lived as a permanent resident. A Swiss law of 2011 allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
A plaintiff in the case who testified that Kosiah ordered the killing of his brother called on other Liberians to appear as witnesses and secure more sentences.
“If you set an example, the other boys will be scared,” he said in a statement through the NGO Civitas Maxima who represented him. He asked not to be mentioned by name in media reports for fear of retaliation.
Liberia has ignored pressure to prosecute crimes from its back-to-back wars between 1989-2003, in which thousands of child soldiers were linked to power struggles exacerbated by ethnic rivalry.
Human Rights Watch called Friday’s sentencing a “benchmark.”
“Switzerland ‘s efforts in this case should help mobilize wider accountability in Liberia as this shows that these crimes can be prosecuted. I see this as an opportunity,” said Elise Keppler of the group.
Activists in the Liberian capital Monrovia celebrated the verdict. “This will serve as a hindrance to others in the world. I think justice has taken its course,” said Dan Sayeh, a civil society activist.
Kosiah had denied all charges and told the court he was a minor when he was first recruited into the conflict. His lawyer did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on the sentence.
Kosiah was cleared Friday of the attempted murder of a civilian, accessory to the killing of a civilian, a robbery order and the recruitment of a child soldier.
The court said the 20-year sentence was the maximum allowed under Swiss law.
“No mitigating circumstances were taken into account during the sentence. An expulsion from Switzerland was also ordered for a period of 15 years,” he said. Kosiah was also ordered to pay compensation to seven plaintiffs, he added.
It was not immediately clear when the deportation would take place. Approximately 6-1 / 2 years that Kosiah has already served in custody will count toward sentencing, court newspapers reported.
Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes in 2012, but only for actions in neighboring Sierra Leone. His son, Chuckie, was convicted of torture in Liberia by a US court in 2009.
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