By James Harding Giahyue, New Narrative Senior Justice Correspondent
BELLINZONA, Switzerland – There was an even more extraordinary scene in Alieu Kosiah’s trial of war crimes in Switzerland on Thursday when a second witness Kosiah herself, who allegedly supported Kosiah’s claim of innocence, told the court that Kosiah committed war crimes in recruitment. a child soldier.
Today’s witness, a former ULIMO combatant whose identity was withheld at the behest of the judge, testified that Kosiah had recruited children, including the first defense witness who appeared the day before, as combatants.
“I know that Kosiah has RTOs as bodyguards,” said the man, who testified before the court in Bellinzona from an anonymous location via video conference. I know one of them. “RTO” is what ULIMO calls child soldiers.
In shocking testimony on Wednesday, the first defense witness testified that Kosiah had recruited him to become a combatant at the age of 12. The witness, who arrived from Liberia the day before, later told the court that Switzerland needed to provide asylum to protect it. from retaliation, thought he didn’t say who from.
The two men, under the interrogation of defense attorney Dimitri Gianoli, told them stories of Kosiah’s kindness and insisted they did not see him committing war crimes. In cross-examination by the lawyers of the seven victims who brought the case, known as the plaintiffs, the testimony of the two men later corroborated the charges of recruiting child soldiers.
The defense’s decision to bring these two witnesses to court confused observers in this case. In a brief interview outside the trial, Gianoli said Kosiah was heavily involved in the selection of the two defense witnesses. The court may conclude that Kosiah’s decision to use these two witnesses shows that he still does not understand that the recruitment of child soldiers is a war crime.
‘I thought Kosiah was confused’
Kosiah’s main defense at this trial is that she is not in Lofa County, where the acts were allegedly committed in the 1990s. The two defense witnesses also denied claims telling the court that Kosiah was in Lofa between 1993 and 1994.
The three-judge panel heard the case of Alieu Kosiah and the court clerks. New Narration / Leslie Lumeh
ULIMO was formed in May 1991 in Sierra Leone by Mandingo refugees and soldiers fleeing from the Liberian Armed Forces (AFL). Four months later, the group attacked the NPFL from Lofa, on which it was based. It marched into the western part of the country, destroying cities and villages. The group committed a fifth of all human rights violations recorded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its 2009 report.
The second defense witness told the panel that three judges Kosiah fought in ULIMO’s arrest of Voinjama and Foya. Kosiah told the court in December last year and again on Monday that he had not fought in the area.
“After we took over Zorzor, Kosiah… joined us and we all went and arrested Voinjama and Foya,” said the man who told the court he was a front line fighter.
After Kosiah’s lawyer, Dmitri Gianoli, told the man that his client said he didn’t arrest Lofa, he said, “I think Kosiah is confused.” The man added “Lada and Salt,” another ULIMO commander, had ordered the conquest of Foya to prevent further attacks from rebels from the Liberian National Patriotic Front (NPFL) and the United Revolutionary Front (RUF) in the area. He said he and Kosiah also fought the NPFL in Belefana and Gbarnga in Bong County, and after the war he met with him in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
There are two other confessions in the man’s four-hour testimony. He strengthened testimony one of the plaintiffs that Kosiah was wearing a military uniform, unlike many ULIMO fighters. He also said the war crime suspect drove a Toyota Land Cruiser while in Lofa.
The lawyer of the four plaintiffs Alain Werner, apparently pleased by the man’s statement, questioned him about the route the Mandingo-dominated faction took to bring a case to court which he told the truth.
Gianoli, who is serving his first war crimes trial, appears to have seen the damage caused by the people’s testimony. In one instance, Gianoli told the man that another former fighter had told the court on Wednesday that Kosiah was not fighting in Foya. The person replied and said that the witness handled ULIMO’s civil affairs and did not know what was happening on the front lines.
Gianoli’s main strategy seems to show inconsistency in the plaintiff’s testimony. The plaintiffs had to prove guilt “beyond a doubt” for Kosiah to be punished. Seeing that his main strategy was unsuccessful, Gianoli seemed to try to use the man to refute other witnesses. He asked witnesses about the ferry and canoe that the two plaintiffs talked about last week. The man confirmed that. He further asked him if people crossed the car by ferry on the Guinean border via Sorlumba as the plaintiff had said. “I can’t tell you more,” replied the man. “I’m based on the front line.” Asked about the term “Dingo”, which Kosiah found in court a derogatory way of referring to Mandingos, the man said it was not an insult. “That’s their short way of contacting us,” he told the court. And Gianoli asks the man if there is really a well in the Foya market, hoping he contradicts another plaintiff who says he saw seven people killed and their bodies thrown into a borehole. But the man came back saying that he didn’t know.
After that Gianoli attempted to discredit the witness’s knowledge of ULIMO, its command and structure. Appearing once again, even telling the court what the CO meant was the commander and the names of the rebels the court had not heard of.
Kosiah, wearing an army green jacket and white shirt, was silent throughout the man’s testimony, in and out of Gianoli’s ear, writing and tucking papers to his lawyer.
“[Today’s] the witness did not help in our defense, ”said Gianoli after leaving the court. “Yesterday’s witness (former child soldier) technically made our case.”
Kosiah was the first Liberian to be prosecuted for war crimes in connection with Liberia’s 14-year war, which killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced millions. He moved to Switzerland in 1997 and became a permanent resident a year later. He was arrested in the Swiss capital Bern in November 2014 for alleged war crimes. His case is the first in a Swiss civil court.
There were two more defense witnesses on Thursday following the man’s testimony. There will be one more defense and two prosecution witnesses on Friday. Trial ends on March 5.
This report was created in collaboration with New Narrative as part of the West African Justice Reporting Project.
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