The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civil court. This included Aliu Kosia, 46, who went on to become a “bluff boy” in the 1990s ULIMO, a rebel faction that fought former President Charles Taylor’s forces.
Kosia faced 25 charges, including one charged with eating pieces of a man’s heart. Documents from the Swiss Federal Court show that he was convicted of this and was convicted on all but four of the other counts.
He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he was living as a permanent resident. Swiss law of 2011 allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
A plaintiff in the case who testified that Kosia ordered his brother’s murder urged other Liberians to come forward as witnesses and secure a higher sentence.
“If you set an example, others will be scared,” he said in a statement through the NGO Civitas Maxima, which represented him. He asked not to be named in media reports for fear of reprisal.
Liberia has ignored pressure to prosecute crimes from its back-to-back wars between 1989-2003, in which thousands of child soldiers were tied up in a power struggle fueled by ethnic rivalry.
Human Rights Watch called Friday’s sentence “historic”.
“Switzerland’s efforts on this matter should help bring about wider accountability in Liberia because it shows that these crimes can be prosecuted. I see this as an opportunity,” said the group’s Alice Kepler.
Activists celebrate the verdict in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Civil society evangelist Dan Sayeh said, “It will serve as a deterrent to others around the world. I think justice has done its job.”
Kosia had denied all charges and told the court that he was a minor when he first entered the conflict. His lawyer did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the sentence.
Kosia was ordered on Friday for attempted murder of a civilian, accomplice to the murder of a civilian, robbing and recruiting a child soldier.
The court said a maximum sentence of 20 years could be imposed under Swiss law.
“The mitigating circumstances were not taken into account in the sentence. Deportation from Switzerland for a period of 15 years was also ordered,” the statement said. It said that Kosia has also been ordered to pay compensation to the seven litigants.
It was not immediately clear when the deportation would take place. Court papers show that Kosia has already served a sentence of about 6-1/2 years in pre-trial detention.
Charles Taylor was sentenced in 2012 for war crimes, but only for acts in neighboring Sierra Leone. His son, Chucky, was sentenced in 2009 by a US court for torture in Liberia.