Trial Monitoring: Alieu Kosiah’s appeal proceedings

Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) faction, was tried before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (FCC) in Bellinzona from December 3, 2020, to March 5, 2021 for war crimes allegedly committed during the First Liberian Civil War.

On June 18, 2021, Alieu Kosiah was found guilty of: ordering the killing of 13 civilians and 2 unarmed soldiers; murdering 4 civilians; raping a civilian; ordering the cruel treatment of 7 civilians; infringing upon the dignity of a deceased civilian; repeatedly ordering the cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment of several civilians; repeatedly inflicting cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment on several civilians; repeated orders to loot, and using a child soldier in armed hostilities. The FCC sentenced Mr. Kosiah to 20 years in prison. The defense lawyer filed an appeal against the judgement.

On September 2, 2022, following the plaintiffs’ appeal on this legal aspect, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) filed an amended indictment against Alieu Kosiah to include charges of crimes against humanity.

Appeal proceedings will begin in Bellinzona on January 11, 2023, and are expected to last until early February. 

Art by JP Kalonji.

Voiceover by: Moses Kollie Garzeawu 

Moses Kollie Garzeawu is an award-winning Liberian Journalist based in Monrovia. With close to two decades as a journalist, his career has focused on politics, human rights, development, and sports reporting.

A multimedia content creator, he was Director of Television programs for the Liberia National Television at the Liberia Broadcasting system prior to moving to the Voice of America in 2018. 

Accountability Journalism is the fulcrum of Moses’ journalism journey.

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Disclaimer

The proceedings are being held in French; therefore, French is the original language of this monitoring. As making legal information accessible is a part of Civitas Maxima’s mission, English translations made with Deepl will be available. Hence, issues with the English translation may apply.

The names of certain witnesses and civil parties are withheld for privacy and security reasons.

The monitoring is not an official court transcript.


[01/11/2023] Day One

Recap Day One: The appeal proceedings begin
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The Presiding Judge began by explaining how the appeals process would take place. He explained the rights and obligations of the plaintiffs, the defendant, and the interpreter. He then went through the different grounds of appeal, regarding: the defence’s appeal for acquittal of the conviction of war crimes; and the joint appeal of the Prosecutor and plaintiffs for an amended indictment to include crimes against humanity. Notably, the appeal for acquittal for recruiting a child soldier was admitted.

Next, prejudicial questions and elements of proof were discussed. While some new elements of proof were admitted, others were not.

After the break, the first plaintiff was heard, in relation to charges of sexual violence, pillage, and the forced transport of goods. A part of the plaintiff’s discourse was held in a semi-private hearing, given the sensitive nature of some of the alleged acts. The defendant was given the opportunity to respond to the plaintiff’s conclusions.

Next the plaintiff answered to the defendant’s response and gave precisions on certain issues. Finally, the defendant gave his final conclusions on the last response of the plaintiff.

The Presiding judge announced the end of the hearing and set out the schedule for the following day.


[01/12/2023] Day Two

Recap Day Two: Two plaintiffs and an former child soldier take the stand
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The second day of the Alieu Kosiah appeal began by hearing a plaintiff regarding an alleged execution of 7 civilians, as well as pillage and forced labor.

After that, an ex-child soldier who had been recruited by Mr. Kosiah, expressed that he was unable to testify. Under severe distress, he left the courtroom.

Finally, the Court heard a plaintiff regarding the murder of a civilian. According to the plaintiff, the civilian had been arrested and tortured by ULIMO soldiers. He was then subject to a summary execution and his corpse was desecrated, allegedly through an act of cannibalism. The question focused on the extent to which the plaintiff had ordered these acts, or whether the soldiers under his command committed such acts without him intervening to prevent.

The defendant was invited to respond to each statement made by the plaintiffs. He maintained that either he did not know the plaintiffs, that he was not present when the acts were allegedly committed, or that he was not aware of them.


[01/13/2023] Day Three

Recap Day Three: Multiple charges, multiple photographs
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During day 3 of the proceedings, a victim testified with regards to a pillage and forced transport in which he had been forced to participate. Photographical evidence was used to indicate the place where these acts allegedly took place, as well as the manner in which the goods were allegedly forcibly transported.

Next, a plaintiff described being victim and witness to acts of cruel treatment and murder of civilians. After he had explained the place that the civilians’ bodies had been left, the Defense presented a series of photos to refute these statements. The plaintiff, however, maintained his position. His testimony will continue next Monday January 16.

Both plaintiffs maintained that the defendant had expressly given orders to carry out some of the acts, as well as directly participating in others.

The defendant maintained arguments similar to those which he had invoked during the previous hearing.


[01/16/2023] Day Four

Recap Day Four: Unable to carry
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The session began with the last plaintiff from the hearing on Friday 13th completing his statement. The plaintiff had been involved in different events of pillage and forced transport, once as a civilian, and once as a ULIMO soldier during the period in which he was forced to join the armed group. The defendant denied his involvement in the events.

Next, a new plaintiff was heard. He had been a part of a pillage previously attested to in the first week. He also was witness to the murder of a civilian who had been unable to carry the pillaged goods to the end due to hunger and fatigue. His testimony will continue tomorrow January 17th.

Both plaintiffs, when the defendant insisted that he was not aware of or involved in the events, or that he had never heard of them, accused him of lying.


[01/17/2023] Day Five

Recap Day Five: Routine forced transports
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To begin the fifth day of the proceedings, the plaintiff from Monday’s hearing completed his statement regarding forced transport and the killing of a civilian.

Next, another plaintiff recounted a similar story, of multiple transports that he had been forced into. He, along with other young men from surrounding villages, were frequently rounded up by soldiers, and forced to carry goods to various checkpoints across the region. He mentioned that this sort of event, at the time, had become part of daily life. During one of the transports, he had managed to escape. He had also witnessed the killing of a civilian.

The defendant maintained his position that he had never been involved in forced transport by civilians. He also upheld that he would never kill and unarmed civilian.

Hearings will recommence Monday January 23rd.


[01/23/2023] Day Six

Recap Day Six: War names explained
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On the 6th day of hearings, a new plaintiff was heard. The plaintiff was a witness and victim to numerous charges, notably the murder of a civilian, forced transports of goods, and the murders of two fighters within the ULIMO faction.

The defendant explained the origin of a number of war names used by certain fighters. Some names were based off fighters’ behavior within their factions, while others were based on things such as their eating habits or were even inspired from well-known historical conflicts.

Once the plaintiff’s testimony had ended, two further charges were discussed: of the use of a child soldier, and the murder of a civilian.

The defendant maintained his innocence. He gave an overview of certain military operations across the region to demonstrate that he would not and could not have been in the areas where the incidents allegedly occurred.


[01/24/2023] Day Seven

Recap Day Seven: The testimony of a previous ULIMO captive
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Day 7 was the last appearance of the plaintiffs before the Federal Criminal Court. During the hearing, a witness who is not party to the current proceedings gave her testimony.

The witness had been captured by the ULIMO and taken as the ‘woman’ of one of the fighters. She had lived, along with others, in the house of this fighter for a duration of 2 years. The witness claimed to have seen multiple high-ranking ULIMO fighters throughout these 2 years and could attest to having seen the ill-treatment and killing of civilians as well as acts of cannibalism. She also spoke of the pillages and forced transports that she had heard of.

In addition, the witness testified to seeing an incident of ill-treatment that one of the plaintiffs had testified about the previous week.

While the defendant’s lawyer questioned this witness on her statements, the defendant will be given the opportunity to respond himself once the hearings recommence next week.


[01/30/2023] Day Eight

Recap Day Eight: Alieu Kosiah speaks
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The first part of the last week of hearings is dedicated to the defendant’s overall response to the charges and statements made beforehand.

The defendant’s response was divided into three key themes: the ULIMO faction; Liberia’s First civil war; and Alieu Kosiah’s personal situation. While none of the evidence or testimonies were directly presented during this part, the defendant was able to express his point of view on a number of elements which he considered as either valuable or to be disregarded.

The session was concluded at a set time to allow the judges to discuss a technical issue regarding the proceedings. The defendant will be able to continue his statement tomorrow, before the legal debates should commence.


[01/31/2023] Day Nine

Recap Day Nine: The defense’s pleadings
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Day 9 began with the conclusion of the defendant’s statement. After completing his response to the facts developed throughout the proceedings, the defendant discussed his personal situation, focusing on the consequences that the proceedings have had on him.

After this, the submission of a number of new elements was discussed. Certain elements were accepted by the Court, despite some opposition, as they could be used as visual aids during the pleadings, and were not considered pieces of new evidence or testimony.

Finally, the defense began its pleadings. First, the defense gave an overview of the history and context of Liberia and its civil wars, and then moved onto matters surrounding the investigations and witness statements. The defense will continue its pleadings tomorrow, Wednesday 1st February.


[02/01/2023] Day Ten

Recap Day Ten: Defense concludes, Prosecution begins
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Day 10 saw the end of the defense’s pleadings. After finishing his discussion on the witness testimonies, the defense spoke on each individual charge. The defense maintained Mr Kosiah’s innocence, stating that he was not or could not have been at the places where the events would have happened.

Next, the Federal Public Prosecutor began his pleadings. His first point was to rule out any doubt that the defendant could have been present where the incidents occurred. He then spoke through each charge individually.

The prosecutor will continue his pleadings tomorrow, Thursday February 2.


[02/02/2023] Day Eleven

Recap Day Eleven: The plaintiff’s causes are pled
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For the penultimate day of the hearings, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs began their pleadings.

The Prosecutor finished his plead, and concluded by discussing the legal application of crimes against humanity to the case.

Next, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, including Civitas Maxima’s Alain Werner, pled their causes. They began by responding with legal arguments surrounding crimes against humanity. Then, they addressed some ‘transversal themes’ applicable to all of the plaintiffs, such as their credibility and reliability as witnesses.

Finally, each lawyer pled for each of their clients. Tomorrow, the lawyers representing the remaining plaintiffs will continue their pleadings.

[02/03/2023] Day Twelve

Recap Day Twelve: Alieu Kosiah’s last word
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The public hearings of Alieu Kosiah’s appeal proceedings ended today, Friday February 3.

The day began with the pleadings of the lawyers representing the remaining plaintiffs. The defense was then given the opportunity to respond to some final issues raised during these pleadings.

Finally, Alieu Kosiah was called to the stand to give his final statement. He thanked the court for the opportunity to speak and be heard and made a few clarifications on some points that had come up throughout the proceedings.

The presiding judge declared the session closed. He stated that the court would take its time to deliberate, and that the final decision would be rendered publicly on June 1.