Geneva Solutions’s monthly “war criminal hunt” in collaboration with the Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima.

“Today’s announcement in the Alieu Kosiah case closes the month with a historic development in international justice, becoming the first-ever conviction for crimes against humanity in Switzerland. This ruling is a tribute to the bravery and resilience of several Liberian victims who have been forgotten by their own government and have endeavoured to travel over 7000 kilometres from home to pursue their quest for justice. It is also another major boost for the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is becoming, little by little, a beacon of hope for the forgotten victims of international crimes.”

  • Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima

Swiss court upholds war crimes conviction against Liberian rebel leader

Former Liberian rebel commander Alieu Kosiah lost his appeal on 1 June before Switzerland’s highest criminal court against a 20-year prison sentence handed down in 2021 for war crimes, including murder, rape, cannibalism and pillage. Kosiah, who led the rebel group United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (Ulimo) in its fight against the forces of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, was also found guilty of crimes against humanity – a Swiss first.

The ex-commander, who has always denied the accusations, had sought to overturn the war crimes ruling, arguing that he was not present where most of the crimes took place. He had been acquitted of other charges, including recruiting a child soldier. Meanwhile, the federal prosecutor filed to add charges of crimes against humanity to the original indictment.

The case sets a historic legal precedent in Swiss law. Beyond confirming the first-ever conviction for war crimes before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court, it is also the first conviction for crimes against humanity in Switzerland.  The case had sparked controversy as prosecutors disagreed whether the charges of crimes against humanity could be brought against acts committed before 2011 when the law changed.

It is also a milestone for the victims of Liberia’s civil wars seeking justice, as the first-ever trial of a Liberian national in relation to the conflicts.

Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, represented four of the victims, who came to Bellinzona from Liberia to testify in court.

Countries adopt ‘historic’ treaty on international crimes

Countries gathered in Ljubljana, Slovenia, adopted on 26 May an international treaty to enhance cooperation among states for investigating and prosecuting the worst crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Backed by 80 states, the Ljubljana-Hague Convention is the first major treaty since the Rome Statute that founded the International Criminal Court in 1998.

While hailing it as a “historic step” towards justice for victims, Amnesty International criticised France and the United Kingdom for watering down the text with proposals that the NGO said would allow “suspected tortures and war criminals to escape justice”, all while calling for the prosecution of atrocities committed in Ukraine. One of the proposed amendments leaves the obligation to extradite or prosecute those wanted for international crimes at the country’s discretion.

“It is of great concern that last-minute efforts by a few states succeeded in carving out an exemption and securing discretion on whether to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators present on their territory, when this should be a universal duty,” the NGO said in a statement.

US convicts American for torture in Iraq

A criminal court in the US state of Pennsylvania found Ross Rogio, an arms smuggler, guilty of torture, conspiracy, illegal weapon exports, money laundering, smuggling and other charges in mid-May. The 54-year-old American, who faces a possible life sentence, manufactured rifles in the Kurdistan region of Iraq using material he illegally exported from the US.

In 2015, Rogio arranged the kidnapping by Kurdish soldiers of a colleague ​​who had threatened to report him for his illegal activities, after which he led and took part in his torture in a Kurdish military camp.

Rogio is only the second American national to be prosecuted under the US’s 1994 torture statute, after the son of former Liberian president Taylor, Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, was convicted of torture in 2009. The US, meanwhile, has barely grappled with the crimes committed by its own military and private contractors in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 and the fight that ensued against the Islamic State.

What else happened

Russia pursues ICC prosecutor. Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has been put on Moscow’s wanted list in retaliation to the arrest warrant the ICC issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s commissioner for children’s rights Maria Lvova-Belova for allegedly overseeing the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia issued in March.

DR Congo files new ICC complaint against Rwandan army. The Democratic Republic of Congo filed a second referral before the ICC against the Rwandan Defence Forces and the rebel group M23 for violations committed in the east of the country, where an offensive by the allegedly Rwanda-backed group forced over half a million people to flee in 2022. With an ICC investigation into the situation since 2004, the new referral seeks to shift focus towards the crimes committed in the past two years, including the pillaging of natural resources.

Rwandan genocide: arrest in South Africa, new trial in Belgium. One of the last four suspects with an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was arrested in South Africa at the end of May. Fulgence Kayishema, police inspector in Kivumu at the time of the genocide, is due to face trial in Rwanda’s capital Kigali for crimes including genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. A Belgian court has also set a date for a trial against two Rwandan nationals suspected of taking part in the 1994 genocide for October 2023.

French court upholds universal jurisdiction but hurdles remain. France’s highest court ruled that two Syrians accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity could be tried in the country, recognising the principle of universal jurisdiction over crimes committed abroad. The decision will help another 160 pending cases to move forward.

While welcoming the ruling, Human Rights Watch warned that French law still imposes restrictive conditions, such as the need for the crime committed in a foreign country to be recognised in that country’s domestic law and for the accused to “habitually” live in French soil, which “risk France becoming a safe haven for people responsible for the world’s worst crimes”.

Lawyers strike in Guinea. A key trial in Conakry over the 2009 stadium massacre was suspended until 5 June after lawyers went on strike for never getting paid. The government, which has refused to provide legal aid, shifted the blame to international partners, namely the US and the European Union, for not providing promised funds for the trial.

First-ever national conviction for forced pregnancy as crime against humanity. A Congolese military tribunal sentenced Munyololo Mbao, the former leader of the armed group Raia Mutomboki, to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity that include forced pregnancy in a world first for a national court.

The article first appeared on Geneva Solutions as part of a Civitas Maxima/Geneva Solutions collaboration, on the 1st of June, 2023.

One thought on “War crimes round-up: Swiss court upholds war crimes conviction against Liberian rebel, ‘historic’ crimes treaty adopted

  1. Thanks for the job well done Civitas Maxima. This is Justice Forum LIBERIA, advocates for social justice and peace.

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