Liberia: Second Witness Says He Has Been Attacked and Intimidated for Testifying Against Kosiah

Alieu Kosiah in his appeal hearings in the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland

MONROVIA — A second plaintiff has told the Swiss court hearing the appeal proceedings of Alieu Kosiah, the Liberian warlord challenging his 20-year sentence for war crimes, that Kosiah’s allies beat and intimidated him for testifying against Kosiah in 2021.

Kosiah, a 47-year-old former commander for the Ulimo rebel group, is appealing his conviction in the appeal chamber of Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court which convicted him of 21 of 25 counts including murder, rape, and use of a child soldier. Kosiah is facing fresh charges of crimes against humanity in this hearing and his sentence could be increased should the court find him guilty of them.

The plaintiff said this happened to him three months after he had testified against Kosiah when two men with a gun knocked and threw him to the ground. The plaintiff, a schoolteacher claimed the alleged attack and intimidation began after he had been removed from the payroll without explanation. He said though he got his job back, he had to be relocated.

He is the second witness in the appeal to claim he has faced retribution for testifying against Kosiah. An earlier witness told the court that a relative in Monrovia where he was staying had asked him to leave because he was “risking” her life and her “children’s life.” (To protect witnesses from retribution courts have ordered their identities to be concealed by the media.)

The plaintiff (plaintiffs are the victims who have brought the case against Kosiah) told the court in last week’s hearing that he was based in Lofa, where prosecutors say Kosiah committed his crimes in 1993 when Ulimo fought against the National Patriotic Front of Liberia led by then-warlord Charles Taylor.

“I was going to my garden in Zorzor, and I was attacked by four unknown men,” said the plaintiff according to a translated transcript of the trial taken by Civitas Maximas, the Swiss-based justice activists. “Two of them had an AK 47. One of them said, ‘It’s [the plaintiff’s name is withheld at the court’s direction], I know him’. The other said, ‘We were sent to kill him. So let’s kill him and let’s go.’ While they were arguing with each other they knocked me down and I could hear what they were saying.”

The plaintiff said they left him and fled when they heard the sound of a motorcycle. The plaintiff did not say who had allegedly sent the men to torture and kill him. “When I woke up, I spoke with the person on the motorbike who told me that she had seen people running away and I told her that she and God had just saved my life.”

“After this incident, I told [my boss] that I didn’t want to stay here. I was transferred to another position and had to be relocated. That’s the impact it had on me and my family.”

As he did in the trial stage of the case, Dimitri Gianoli, Kosiah’s lawyer, sought to cast doubt on the accuracy of the man’s testimony by asking why he did not complain to Liberian authorities at the time. “I don’t know them, so who am I going to mention in my complaint?” said the witness.

The plaintiff also accused Kosiah of compelling him to transport looted goods to the Liberia-Guinea border—”forced labor” is one of the counts Kosiah is challenging on appeal. The plaintiff alleged that Kosiah, wearing camouflage pants with a t-shirt, killed a boy who had disobeyed Kosiah’s order that he come out of a house to join Kosiah and other Ulimo rebels in a pickup truck. He said the boy feared he would be killed if he did so.

“Alieu Kosiah took his pistol to the side, and he shot the boy,” the plaintiff said. “The boy fell, and they left him there. They got back into the car.”

In his response Kosiah dismissed the allegations and questioned the witness’s credibility. “We don’t know the name of this young man,” said Kosiah. “How can we establish that what [the plaintiff] says is the truth? It all comes down to [plaintiff’s] credibility. For a person to be killed, he must first have existed.”

Kosiah repeated accusations that he and other alleged perpetrators tried for their roles in Liberia’s civil wars have made up: that the Liberian justice advocates Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which partners with Civitas Maxima, had bribed the witness to testify. Kosiah referred to GJRP as “the NGO”, the acronym for non-governmental organization.

“The only connection between [the plaintiff] and myself is the NGO,” Kosiah told the court. “If the NGO had not chosen me as a target, [the plaintiff] would never have known me in his life. [The plaintiff] knows only two people within ULIMO – Alieu Kosiah and “War Boss”. It’s impossible for someone living in Voinjama at the time not to know other people within Ulimo.”

The plaintiff also alleged that Kosiah used a boy as a child solider when he was in Lofa. Kosiah admitted to this charge in 2021 and had surprised the court by calling the former child soldier as his own defense witness to testify that Kosiah he was good to him. The ex-child soldier demanded asylum from Swiss authorities which was later refused. He was held in Switzerland to testify in Kosiah’s appeal but was removed from the court when he used the appearance to protest Swiss authorities’ handling of his asylum claim. He is expected to be deported to Liberia soon.

Another plaintiff alleged that Ulimo rebels captured and took her and other civilians to Kolahun, where one of the soldiers named Valy took her into a room and raped her. “When he took me by force, I started bleeding. I started crying,” said the witness. “He told me not to cry and said I was going to get used to it. I was covered in blood and he told me not to try to run away because if I tried he would kill me.”

She did not say whether Kosiah was present at the time but accused him of torturing and killing six men with military knives and guns. “They threw them into the well. They stretched their intestines and said it was a gate,” she said.

The witness corroborated the testimony of another plaintiff, who survived the alleged incident, was tortured by Kosiah and Kunti Kamara. The plaintiff, a former Ulimo solider, had testified in Kamara’s trial, showing his scarred back to the French court as evidence of injuries obtained at the hands of the commanders. He said he did not know whether Kosiah or Kamara had stabbed him during a tussle.

The female witness also accused Kosiah and other Ulimo soldiers, including Kamara, “Ugly Boy”, and “Fine Boy” of forcing civilians to eat human body parts.

“They were putting pieces of human beings in the wheelbarrows and rounding us up on the airfield,” she said. “They were forcing civilians to eat human flesh. They had a gun pointed at us. Maybe they did it too, but we had to.”

Kosiah has denied all the charges. The appeal continues next week.

This story was produced in collaboration with FrontPage Africa as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.