Former Liberian warlord Alieu Kosiah appeared in a Swiss court on Thursday, as part of a long-awaiting trial over accusations of killing civilians, rape and cannibalism during Liberia’s civil war.
Kosiah appeared dressed in a shirt and suit, and acknowledged he understood the charges against him, according to the Reuters news agency.
Later during the hearing, he interrupted, shouting that he was “targeted”, complaining that he spent six years in pre-trial detention. He apologised for his outburst.
Kosiah has denied the charges against him, which include recruitment and use of a child soldier, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, attempted murder, murder, desecration of a corpse and rape.
The 45-year-old was arrested in Switzerland in 2014 and the indictment accuses him of participating in the killing of 18 civilians. He has not formally entered his plea before the court.
Part of Kosiah’s defence relies on him not having been present in Lofa County, Liberia when the alleged crimes took place, Reuters reported, citing the defendant’s lawyer.
The case against Kosiah was brought by Liberian survivors of the country’s civil war and supported by Civitas Maxima, a group representing victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), a Liberian organisation.
Hassan Bility, director of GJRP, previously described Kosiah’s trial as “a great day for justice in Liberia, a great day for all of the victims”.
Kosiah rose through the ranks of the rebel United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) during the country’s first civil war from1989 to 1996. He fought against Charles Taylor’s soldiers in Lofa County, allegedly committing war crimes that took place from 1993 to 1995.
Alain Werner, one of the lawyers for Civitas Maxima representing the victims, has previously underlined the importance of the victims being heard. “We are proud that the bravery of the victims who testified against Alieu Kosiah is finally being recognized through this trial.”
Kosiah is said to have participated in cannibalism, and in one alleged incident ate slices of a dead man’s heart off a metal plate.
The suspect’s trial in Switzerland is possible because the country’s laws recognise universal jurisdiction over selected serious crimes under international law, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.
“Liberians have repeatedly called for justice for civil wars-era crimes, but the Liberian government has failed to deliver,” said HRW’s Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.
Some 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s civil war and thousands fled the fighting.