Access To Justice In Liberia Discussed During High-Level Meeting In The Netherlands

Photo credit Nicolas Braguinsky / Civitas Maxima

NETHERLANDS – From the 5th to the 12th of December, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) – the oversight and legislative body of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – held its yearly meeting in The Hague, the Netherlands. During the ASP, Civitas Maxima together with the Center of Justice and Accountability co-hosted the event “Closing the impunity Gap: A Pragmatic Approach to Universal Jurisdiction”. It featured, Carmen Cheung, Legal Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), Karim Ahman Khan QC, Head of the Investigative Team for ISIL in Iraq, and Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima. The NGOs used the opportunity to highlight their tireless work against impunity, including the work done on behalf of Liberian victims. 

The ICC is the only permanent international tribunal with jurisdiction over the gravest international crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Considering the gravity of crimes committed during Liberia’s two back-to-back civil wars, it is often questioned why Liberian cases are not brought to the ICC. There is a simple answer to that question: The ICC does not have jurisdiction over crimes that were committed before its establishment in 2003, thus excluding Liberia from its scope. The only way for Liberians to have access to justice is through their own court system or through cases brought in other countries. 

“There is an impunity gap, but the solution is work together and contribute with the courts. Justice is everybody’s business, and should not be politicized” said Karim Khan QC. Organizations like the Geneva-based Civitas Maxima and Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project document testimonies of crimes committed during the civil wars, stand with the victims and enable access to justice in other countries. Their work has led to several arrests and trials outside of Liberia. 

“When we see, that justice is not possible in the country where the crimes were committed, we go there and work with people on the ground – talking to victims, documenting their testimonies and finding whatever way possible for justice” said Alain Werner 

“We need to leverage the tools at our disposal to address the gaps in accountability” said Carmen Cheung. 

Alain Werner talked about how the work of NGOs like Civitas Maxima has made alternative avenues for criminal justice possible within legal systems abroad. The case of Thomas Woewiyu in 2018 and Jungle Jabbah in 2017 are examples; both were immigration fraud and perjury cases, but each witnessed over 20 victims testifying to the abuses committed against them under the command of each defendant. Liberia is not forgotten and increasingly its quest for justice has caught the attention of the international community. 

While the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Liberia, the event on the sidelines of the important ICC gathering in The Hague demonstrated that the Liberian Quest for Justice is starting to attract international attention. For international legal experts, the way in which Liberian victims have found creative ways towards justice is an inspiring example of an innovate way to fight impunity.