Canada Allows Liberian War Criminal to Live Freely, While Switzerland Opens Historic Trial of Liberian Warlord
For nearly ten years, Bill Horace, a former rebel with Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), lived freely in Canada. Taylor, who was convicted in May 2012, is currently locked up in the United Kingdom and is serving a 50-year sentence for the NPFL’s crimes against humanity. When Taylor was sentenced, the judge said he was “responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”
Horace, who entered Canada as a refugee in 2002, served directly under Taylor as a general. During his time in the NPFL, he became known as “General Bill.” Horace was accused of slaughtering dozens of civilians in the war that lasted from 1989-2003.
On June 21, 2020, Horace was gunned down by four men at his home in London, Ont., for his involvement in a “black money” scam.
Canadian police arrested Keiron Gregory, 22, the son of a Toronto police officer Trevor Gregory. Trevor Gregory was also arrested and charged with a breach of public trust concerning the killing.
How a former warlord lived freely in Canada
Roughly twenty years ago, Canada upheld in its federal law universal jurisdiction for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – meaning these offenses are to be treated as criminal acts even when they are committed in other countries.
Despite being given evidence of Horace’s atrocities by investigators, Canadian authorities did not pursue the case against Horace. Only two people, both linked to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, have been prosecuted under Canadian law.
Despite a mountain of evidence against former warlords like Bill Horace and dozens of others in Liberia, Canada has allowed war criminals to live freely and has failed to take any action. Still, some countries are starting to act – including Switzerland who hardly ever gets involved in prosecuting war criminals.
Trial of Liberian Alieu Kosiah Opens in Switzerland
On November 14, 2014, Alieu Kosiah, 45, a former rebel commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, or ULIMO, was arrested in Switzerland for war crimes. After being persecuted by Charles Taylor’s NPFL, the Mandingo community decided to defend itself by forming a sub-branch of the armed group ULIMO-K.
The son of a businessman, at the age of 18, Kosiah had fled to Sierra Leone after members of his family were brutally murdered. Later, he joined the ULIMO-K branch and quickly rose through the ranks to become one of its commanders. Alieu had been in Switzerland for nearly twenty years when he was arrested – he asserts his innocence.
Alieu Kosiah is the first person to be tried in Switzerland for war crimes before a nonmilitary court – he is being tried in a civil court.
He is accused of rape, pillage, assassinations, and cannibalism. According to court documents, Kosiah crimes are listed as “recruitment and use of a child soldier, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, murder, desecration of a corpse, and rape. The trial of Alieu represents a significant and historic moment for Liberians seeking justice for atrocities since former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and current President George Weah of Liberia have failed to act.
Although his trial has been repeatedly postponed, on December 3, 2020, it opened in Bellinzona, Switzerland, amidst a nerve-wracking atmosphere. According to testimonies of victims, the Swiss Public Prosecutor’s office accuses Kosiah of having “committed himself or (…) ordered his troops to commit during the years 1993 to 1995, in Lofa County, in particular, the murder of civilians, rape and acts aimed at enslaving and terrorizing the population.” Still, many in the Mandingo community in Switzerland, including the Liberian community president, Morisara Doumbia, see Kosiah as a hero.
Kosiah entered the court dressed in a black suit as if he was attending his funeral. When asked by the chief judge if he understood the charges against him, he said: “Yes, of course.” During an outburst, he exclaimed: “I was targeted…I have been six years in prison pre-trial.”
The court is considering establishing video links with victims. This case represents a significant milestone considering Liberia has never prosecuted its war criminals, and several warlords are working in prominent positions in the Liberian government.