Second war crimes prosecution from Liberian civil war

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

The arrest of Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that fought against Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL) in Liberia’s first civil war, was reported yesterday. Kosiah was arrested on 10 November 2014 for his alleged implication in war crimes committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, Liberia. A Swiss judge decided on 13 November 2014 that Mr. Kosiah will remain in detention for at least three months.

This landmark case marks the very first time a former ULIMO member has been charged with international crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars and his arrest in November came only a few weeks after a NPFL Front Line Commander, Martina Johnson, was arrested in Belgium for her alleged role in wartime atrocities (for information on this case, see here). The investigation and arrest were possible under Swiss law as Mr. Kosiah was residing in Switzerland.

The majority of the 7 Liberian victims who filed criminal complaints against Alieu Kosiah in Switzerland are represented by Alain Werner, Swiss lawyer and Director of Civitas Maxima. Civitas Maxima has been working since 2012 with the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) to document crimes committed during the wars by all warring factions and find avenues for accountability.

The victims directly implicate Mr. Kosiah as having participated in mass atrocities including systematic killings committed against civilians between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, in northwestern Liberia. ULIMO occupied large parts of Lofa County, where they instilled a reign of terror in areas under their control.

Until now, the Liberian authorities have made no effort to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during over a decade of civil war, which claimed over 150 000 lives, most of them civilians.

Hassan Bility, the Monrovia-based Director of the GJRP commented: “The news of Martina Johnson’s arrest in Belgium gave hope to thousands of Liberian victims that justice can be a reality. This second arrest is a milestone as it is the first case ever against an ULIMO commander and it reinforces the Liberian demand for impartial justice for all victims. We are unbiased in our documentation of war crimes and we believe that former commanders of all rebel factions who committed crimes during the wars in Liberia need to be held accountable, without exception.”

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