GENEVA – The Swiss-based organization, Civitas Maxima which has been working in collaboration with the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) to facilitate the documentation of international crimes, and pursues the redress of such crimes on behalf of victims who do not have access to justice, has taken Madam Agnes Reeves-Taylor to task over her damning indictment of the group’s effort in pursuit of alleged perpetrators of the Liberian civil war.
In a statement Tuesday, Civitas said it takes serious exceptions to Reeves-Taylor’s assertions made at a news conference Monday, July 27, 2020, during which she spoke in great detail about her incarceration and the torture case against her in the United Kingdom.
Ms. Reeves Taylor, who recently left the UK stated that the purpose of the press conference was to “set the record straight” regarding the alleged “misinformation and lies” spread about her.
These alleged “misinformation and lies”, Civitas noted, include the evidence from direct victims and witnesses of her alleged crimes that was considered by a criminal court in the UK as “prima facie” (legally sufficient) evidence to support the charges against her.
Civitas, however, averred that because Ms. Reeves Taylor ultimately did not face trial in the UK, the evidence against her was not tested in a court of law. “We at Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) are appalled and very concerned about the apparent public campaign Ms Reeves Taylor is waging against the individuals and organizations who assisted the UK authorities in their investigation. Threats and intimidation of witnesses, victims, and Human Rights Defenders is a hallmark of dictatorships, not of democracies like Liberia. We unequivocally condemn Ms Taylor’s statements repeatedly naming and targeting the individuals and organizations working tirelessly for justice in Liberia.”
Civitas said Hassan Bility and the staff of the GJRP are themselves survivors of the Civil Wars and slammed Ms. Reeves-Taylor’s attempt to discredit the work which has been done to bring several high-profile figures of the civil war to justice. “They are ordinary Liberians who have devoted their lives to serving the victims and survivors of the wars by recording their experiences and assisting in their pursuit of justice. Mr Bility and the GJRP undertake their work at great personal risk – a risk which has been significantly heightened following the return of multiple accused perpetrators to Liberia, and which was further heightened following Ms Reeves Taylor’s comments.”
Added the statement: “Mr Bility is also an internationally acclaimed Human Rights Defender, and his team – which includes internationally trained investigators – conduct their investigations according to international standards without fear or favor. Ms Reeves Taylor declared that their work “has to stop”. But the GJRP will not stop. The GJRP is, and always has been, on the side of the forgotten Liberian victims – the same victims that Ms Reeves Taylor ruthlessly labels “malicious”, “vicious” and “liars”. Her words are a frightening example of the vital importance of the GJRP’s work: supporting the voices of victims that have had to suffer in silence as impunity has reined in Liberia. Such attempts to discredit and silence victims demonstrates that it is now even more important than ever for Mr Bility and the GJRP to continue their crucial work of documenting war-time crimes and assisting victims in their quest for justice.”
“We at Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) are appalled and very concerned about the apparent public campaign Ms. Reeves Taylor is waging against the individuals and organizations who assisted the UK authorities in their investigation. Threats and intimidation of witnesses, victims, and Human Rights Defenders is a hallmark of dictatorships, not of democracies like Liberia. We unequivocally condemn Ms Taylor’s statements repeatedly naming and targeting the individuals and organizations working tirelessly for justice in Liberia.Civitas Maxima, Global Justice & Research Project (GJRP)
Civitas said it is very troubling to see Ms Reeves Taylor use the public platform of a press conference to explicitly defend the former rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), against accusations of rape. “While Ms Reeves Taylor was absent from Liberia for over 20 years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report stands as a testament – documenting the undeniable fact that the NPFL and other groups involved in the Civil Wars committed acts of sexual violence on a massive scale. The TRC should not be instrumentalized, but implemented.”
During her news conference, Ms. Reeves-Taylor said Monday, she is open to the judicial system to answer charges relating to the war. Said Reeves-Taylor: “I submit myself to the Liberian judicial system to examine these lies and determine their plausibility” she stated during the press conference. We call on the current Government of Liberia to accept Ms Reeves Taylor’s invitation, and finally comply with its international treaty obligations and with the TRC recommendations – making sure that those who allegedly committed crimes during the Civil Wars can be held accountable nationally. If she is innocent, that can only be proven in an impartial court of law and not at a press conference.”
Civitas said it is now more important than ever that the Liberian Government listens to calls from Liberians and the international community to establish a war crimes court. “Until then, Liberia will be the land of impunity, where war criminals can find safe haven. And this is the greatest disservice to all the people that have died and suffered, to those that were brave enough to testify, and to those who relentlessly advocate for justice and accountability.”
Throughout the press conference, the statement said, Ms. Reeves-Taylor made numerous attempts to discredit the individuals, organizations, and the UK authorities involved in the investigation against her, by spreading misinformation. One such statement was that she was arrested beforeany investigation proceeded against her. “Like many of the unfounded claims made by Ms Reeves Taylor, this is demonstrably untrue. Civitas Maxima and the GJRP provided information about her alleged crimes to the UK authorities in 2013, which led to a substantial investigation by the Metropolitan Police during the years preceding her arrest in 2017.”
Regarding Ms Reeves Taylor’s attack on the integrity of Civitas and GJRP, as non-governmental and non-profit organizations whom she claimed are documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity as a “goldmine”, Civitas said: “NGOs like ours are obligated by law to keep strict financial records. Our financials are public, and we have always been transparent. Since our creation in 2012, we have never accepted any government funding – which many other NGOs do – in order to remain entirely independent of potential influence, and we have a very strict code of ethics regarding donations. Our 2019 financial records can be found here.”
To date, Civitas has been involved in bringing to justice, Martina Johnson, Liberian citizen and former artillery commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles Taylor, who was arrested in September 2014 in Gent, Belgium, and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. She was later released while she is awaiting trial. Johnson’s arrest was the first time ever a Liberian was criminally charged for international crimes allegedly committed during the 1st civil war in Liberia (1989-1996).
Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) was arrested and charged for war crimes in Switzerland in November 2014 and his arrest was made public in January 2015. His arrest marked the first time ever a member of the armed group ULIMO which was fighting against Charles Taylor and the NPFL during the Liberian civil war was arrested and charged.
From 2015 through 2017, the criminal investigation proceeded and a Swiss Judge decided several times to prolong M. Kosiah’s detention. In March 2019 the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced that Kosiah’s case will go to trial in 2020. However, the trial has been put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Civitas Maxima and the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in Freetown also worked in partnership and documented for several years the accounts of people used by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as slaves in the diamonds pits of Kono in the Eastern part of Sierra Leone as part of the trade of so-called « blood diamonds.
This partnership led to a criminal complaint against M. Desaedeleer, US and Belgian citizen, was filed in 2011 in Belgium on behalf of several Sierra Leonean plaintiffs. This complaint prompted an official and non-public federal investigation by Belgian authorities against M. Desaedeleer.
Desaedeleer’s arrest led to the arrest and indictment for participation in the trade of blood diamonds, qualified as a war crime – pillage – and crime against humanity – forced labor.
In September 2015, after several years of investigation, M. Desaedeleer was arrested in Malaga, Spain, following the issuance of a European arrest warrant against him. He was then transferred to Belgium where he was charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity, being accused of having participated with Charles Taylor and the rebels of the RUF in Sierra Leone in the trade of so-called «blood diamonds».
Desaedeleer passed away in Belgian custody on 28 September 2016, a few months before his trial was scheduled to commence.
Civitas was also involved in the arrest in April 2016 of Mohammed Jabbateh, aka Jungle Jabbah. Jabbah was arrested in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. On 2 October 2017. The U.S. Government’s immigration fraud case against the Liberian citizen, Pennsylvania resident, and alleged war criminal began in Philadelphia. Jabbateh was charged with two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury for having lied to authorities about his wartime activities. He was a ULIMO commander, then later ULIMO-K post-faction split, during the First Liberian Civil War and responsible for commanding atrocious wartime crimes including murder, conscription of child soldiers, and cannibalism.
A jury convicted Jabbateh on 18 October 2017. On 19 April 2018, Jabbateh was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence for his charges. This sentence is also one of the longest sentences for immigration fraud in U.S. history. The trial was the first-ever trial against a ULIMO commander and the first time that victims testified in a criminal trial about crimes committed during the First Liberian Civil War.
Civitas was also involved in the case of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu. Woewiyu founded the NPFL with Charles Taylor and served as Spokesman and Defence Minister until political dissonance led him to create and lead the NPFL-CRC during Liberia’s First Civil War (1989-1996).
In May 2014, Thomas Woewiyu was arrested at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, U.S.A, upon his return from a trip to Liberia. Woewiyu was charged with 2 counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, 4 counts of fraud in immigration documents, 3 counts of false statements in relation to naturalization, and 7 counts of perjury.
June 11, 2018 marked the start of Woewiyu’s immigration fraud trial. Over 35 witnesses testified to his direct and indirect involvement with war crimes during the civil war. After 13 days in court, the jury found Woewiyu guilty on 11 of 16 counts on 3 July 2018; his maximum possible sentence is 75 years in prison.
Woewiyu, whose sentencing was a couple of times, died recently from the deadly Covid-19.
Woewiyu’s trial marked the first time ever that somebody who held a ministerial position during the First Liberian Civil War faced justice and the first time that the atrocities of the NPFL – the most violent rebel faction active from 1989-1996 – were documented in a courtroom.