A Swiss appeals court will on Thursday hand down its verdict in the case of a former Liberian warlord accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Alieu Kosiah was found guilty in June 2021 of multiple atrocities committed during the first of Liberia’s back-to-back civil wars, in which around 250,000 people died between 1989 and 2003.
Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in the southern city of Bellinzona found him “guilty of violating the laws of war.”
The verdict marked the first time a Liberian was convicted – either within the west African nation or anywhere else – of war crimes committed during the conflict.
Kosiah, who settled in Switzerland in 1998 and was arrested in the country in 2014, appealed the verdict.
The 48-year-old maintains he is innocent and has requested a full acquittal.
“He has always contested the facts,” his lawyer Dimitri Gianoli told AFP. “He is confident he will be acquitted.”
But the proceedings held earlier this year at the Federal Criminal Court appeals chamber provided an opportunity for the prosecutor to add crimes against humanity to the charges.
It marked the first time that the most serious charge has been tried in Switzerland, made possible by a 2011 law change.
Like war crimes, crimes against humanity refer to atrocities, including murder, torture and rape. Instead of isolated or sporadic events, it is for incidents carried out in a widespread or systematic way.
In the 2021 verdict, Kosiah was found guilty of a slew of war crimes committed as commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) rebel group.
He ordered or participated in the killing of 17 civilians and two unarmed soldiers, as well as rape, and deploying a child soldier, the court ruled.
He had also ordered lootings and repeatedly ordered, or had himself inflicted, cruel and humiliating treatment of civilians, and mishandled corpses, according to that verdict.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison – the maximum sentence possible in Switzerland at the time the crimes were committed.
If the appeals court finds him guilty of crimes against humanity, he could in theory face a life sentence.
The revised charges presented during the appeal emphasised that most of the crimes were part of a “generalized and systematic attack” on civilians, justifying the crimes against humanity charge.