Alieu Kosiah is denied a second ex officio lawyer to face his appeal trial

You don’t change your defender automatically like you change your shirt and you don’t necessarily have the right to a second lawyer paid by the State, especially if the judgment at first instance has already been rendered. Former Liberian rebel leader Alieu Kosiah, who appealed his 20-year prison sentence for war crimes, fails to secure a stronger cast to face his second trial in Bellinzona.

The order, published on Monday, rejects all of the defendant’s arguments. Me Dimitri Gianoli, lawyer from Saint-Imier (BE) and also on duty on that day in November 2014 when the defendant was overtaken by his past when he had come to find refuge in Switzerland, therefore retains his mandate and remains the only counsel compensated by the authority. A decision that can still be challenged before the Federal Court.

Fluctuating patterns

A 290-page judgment, handed down on June 18, 2021, finds Alieu Kosiah, 47, guilty of a long list of violations of the laws of war for having committed multiple atrocities while holding an important position within one of the Ulimo battalions during the first Liberian conflict (1989-1996).

Read also: The immense guilt of Alieu Kosiah, cruel warlord

To attack this decision which makes him a particularly cruel war criminal, the former rebel leader first asked to change his advice, suggesting a breach of the bond of trust with Me Gianoli, whom he also thanked for the work done. He now wanted to be defended by Me Jean-Pierre Bloch, a Lausanne lawyer, ready to take over the mandate.

Subsequently and after having suffered a first refusal, Me Bloch asked to be appointed as an additional ex officio lawyer. With confidence now restored and given the scale and complexity of the procedure, Me Gianoli also felt that this support was not too much to deal with atypical legal issues, at the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Confederation as well as than to the four sharp lawyers (including the founder of the NGO Civitas Maxima Alain Werner) of the plaintiffs.

No specific skill

The President of the Court of Appeal is of a different opinion. Its order recalls that only exceptional circumstances – not met here – allow the revocation of an ex officio mandate. Even if this initial request has become devoid of purpose since the lawyers are asking to work as a duo, the decision emphasizes that the relationship of trust between Alieu Kosiah and his counsel has never been seriously disturbed, that he has provided a defense effective and efficient, that he regularly visited his client and that he pleaded for about ten hours during the hearings. Clearly, if the request had been maintained, it would have been rejected.

Read the editorial again: War crimes, the verdict that must breathe new life

The designation of a second defender ex officio does not meet with more success. While this measure is possible in exceptional cases involving particular complexity, the decision points out that this argument was raised only at the appeal stage “where the complexity of a case does not normally tend to increase, but on the contrary to be reduced”. Finally, the order emphasizes that the two lawyers do not claim to have complementary or specific professional skills likely to justify this addition.

Contacted, Me Bloch, 76, specifies that he is indeed not a specialist in international criminal law, that he was contacted by a group of supporters of the defendant and that he is the motivated trainee and still full of energy of the study which deals with the follow-up of this dossier. It remains to be seen whether the loyal supporters of Alieu Kosiah (himself considered indigent) will be inclined to finance this adventure or whether the lawyers will be ready to “share” a single office mandate for this new trial, the date of which is not yet fixed.

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