Bellinzona — Mr. Alieu Kosiah, former commander with the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), faced questions Wednesday in his war crimes trial about allegations linking him to rape and the recruitment of a child soldier during his time with the rebel group.
Mr. Kosiah, 45, is accused of murder, rape, recruiting child soldiers and a host of other crimes. Testifying to the three-judge panel, Mr. Kosiah denied recruiting any child soldiers for Ulimo. Lawyers for the seven victims who have brought the war crimes case against Mr. Kosiah allege he recruited a then-12-year-old known in the case as "Papa" to protect his identity.
Mr. Kosiah, the first Liberian to face war crimes charges for his role in the Liberian civil war, said Ulimo leadership should be held accountable for recruitment of child soldiers, not him.
Under questioning from victims' lawyers Mr. Kosiah denied meeting Papa in 1992, as the victim alleges.
"Nobody in this gathering can tell me they love Papa more than me. I did not recruit Papa in ULIMO. The leadership decides who joins and who cannot join. I'm not responsible for that. I'm not the chief of staff, commander, deputy, I'm not the commanding general, I'm the front commander, I'm responsible for, what am I responsible for. If ULIMO recruited boys, its up to the leadership not on me."
Mr. Kosiah said after he left his command of Todee, he took no civilians with him when he set off for Clay.
Papa, the teenage boy he's accused of recruiting went with him there to Clay. Thus, he says he does not understand why Papa followed him. "I think maybe because he liked my style."
Mr. Kosiah claimed that the child soldier was with Omaru Kanneh, Kosiah's immediate superior in Ulimo.
Mr. Kosiah insists that Papa was not with Ulimo at the time.
He explained that he met Papa at the Todee junction but never encouraged or seduced the child to join the rebels. "We spent about five months in Clay before going to Lofa. "Sometimes we were in Clay, another time Monrovia and then Bomi."
Mr. Kosiah insisted that when he left Todee, he had no rank and was simply a floating officer. Mr. Kosiah recalled that he met General "Pepper and Salt" on Clay Street, who asked him to join him to Lofa since he never had any rank then. Following that discussion, Mr. Kosiah recalled that after a long discussion, he agreed to join Ulimo within a week.
During this period, Mr. Kosiah claimed that Papa went with him sometimes to Bomi and Monrovia but he dismissed suggestions that he played a role in the boy's recruitment to Ulimo. He challenged Papa to prove he was recruited by ULIMO. "It was impossible for Papa to be recruited by ULIMO."
Mr. Kosiah acknowledged that Papa had lived with him but only for his protection. "I couldn't afford for him to die from hunger and I repeat I had no part to play in the witness's decision to join ULIMO."
"I don't care if the Swiss government wants to put me in 100 years, I am not afraid of anyone. I am only afraid of the law," Mr. Kosiah told the court.
Debunking Rape Allegations
Mr. Kosiah also answered victims' allegations that he raped a woman, known in the trial as Madam F to protect her from potential retribution. He also denied the allegation. "I am a human being, I am not an animal. When I am angry, I know what I am doing it for. Please understand that I am a human being," Mr. Kosiah pleaded.
Madam F. accuses Mr. Kosiah of raping her for an entire day during the war. But the accused claimed that it was not possible because if he had raped her, Madam F. would have mentioned that he has a scar on his right thigh received when he fell on an iron as a boy before the war.
Mr. Kosiah denied Madam F.'s claim that the house where the rape was alleged to have taken place was painted black. He claimed to have never seen a house painted all black before.
NPFL Targeted Mandingoes
Earlier in the day Mr. Kosiah told the court that the rebel movement Ulimo had played a critical role in ending the civil war by waging its war against Charles Taylor's troops. "We opened the gateway to Monrovia which was closed by Mr. Taylor," Mr. Kosiah said.
He said Ulimo, a rebel group made up primarily of soldiers from late President Samuel Doe's army the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), controlled at least two western counties and was based in part on ethnic affiliations: the AFL is composed mainly of Krahn, the ethnic group of former President Samuel Doe; ULIMO was supported largely by Mandingos and Krahns; and the NPFL was initially formed by Gios and Manos.
Mr. Kosiah said many of the issues with the Mandingoes stemmed from jealousy and that the success of the Mandingoes made the group the envy of others. He said that was why only Mandingoes were targeted to be killed by the NPFL. "I was born into the tribal problems. In the 80's my father had a big compound. They broke into my father's house."
This is why he said a lot of Mandingoes decided to join the AFL. "When Mandingo people were killed In Nimba, some of us decided to join the AFL to protect our people. The blunder of the AFL [is that they] killed many Mandingo. In Bahn, people were killed because of the blunder of AFL."
According to Mr. Kosiah, the more Mandingoes there were in the NPFL gave stability to the ethnic group. "In the whole Nimba there were only two or three Mandingoes. We were never part of the army until the war came."
"Some people say Mandingoes were killed because they gave information to Doe when NPFL was coming to Liberia. That's not true. One person give information to Doe, why would you want to kill an entire tribe? Even if that was the case, why would you want to kill all Mandingo people?"
Mr. Kosiah credited Prince Johnson, head of the erstwhile Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia(INPFL) for protecting Mandingoes against the onslaught from Taylor's rebels. "I must admit. Prince Johnson is the one that save more Mandingoes. If it wasn't for him, more Mandingoes would have died. The ones that survived were saved by Prince Johnson."
Asked by his lawyer what was the behavior of the NPFL in Nimba, Mr. Kosiah said: "They were killing Mandingo people. Just in my own town, the reason the Mandingo people survive, it was a group of our neighbors, took the bypass to avoid NPFL ambush to survive NPFL onslaught."
Asked whether the objective of Mr. Taylor's war was to loot, Mr. Kosiah said it was not. "I wouldn't say that. The objective of Mr. Taylor was to get rid of Doe. But when in war there's consequences, what happen was when."
The trial in Switzerland, which began last Thursday, is the first under a 2011 law that allows prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. It also marks the first time war crimes charges have been heard by a Swiss civilian court.
Switzerland recognizes the principle of universal justice, meaning people suspected of committing high-profile international crimes elsewhere can be tried in its courts.
With the end of Mr. Kosiah's testimony the trial has been postponed because of Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. The judges have scheduled the witnesses and victims to testify in February when it is hoped it will be safer for them to travel to Switzerland.
The story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.