Our Work

Public Cases

Martina Johnson

Martina Johnson, Liberian citizen and former artillery commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles Taylor, 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

This was the first time ever a Liberian was criminally charged for international crimes allegedly committed during the 1st civil war in Liberia (1989-1996).

Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) had documented crimes allegedly committed by Martina Johnson and the NPFL in Liberia and helped victims to file a criminal complaint against her in Belgium with the Belgian lawyer Luc Walleyn. The Belgian authorities conducted a two-year non-public investigation based on the information Civitas Maxima and GJRP collected.

The criminal investigation continues and a decision is likely to be made in the course of 2019 by Belgian judges on whether or not to send Martina Johnson to trial.

Alieu Kosiah

Alieu Kosiah, Liberian citizen and 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.

This was 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.

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP documented crimes committed by ULIMO in Liberia and Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima, filed on behalf of five Liberian victims a criminal complaint against Alieu Kosiah in 2014 in Switzerland after having discovered that he had resided in Switzerland for several years. Alieu Kosiah is suspected by the Swiss authorities to have committed war crimes between 1993 and 1995.

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, expected in 2020.

A criminal trial of Alieu Kosiah would be the first time someone would be tried for war crimes in front of a non-military criminal court in Switzerland (the Federal Criminal Court).

Michel Desaedeleer

Civitas Maxima and the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in Freetown have 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 ». 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.

This is the very first time that someone was arrested and indicted 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.

Agnes Taylor

In June 2017, the Metropolitan Police Service arrested Agnes Taylor, Charles Taylor’s ex-wife, charged with torture for her alleged involvement with atrocities committed by Charles Taylor’s rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), during the first Liberian Civil War.

This landmark case marks the second time someone formerly associated with the NPFL has been charged with crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars.

The first case involved NPFL front line Commander Martina Johnson who was arrested in Belgium in September 2014 for her alleged role in wartime atrocities.

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP provided the initial information to the UK authorities, which led to the Metropolitan Police Service commencing an investigation.

A trial is expected to be scheduled for 2019.

Mohammed Jabbateh

In April 2016, Mohammed Jabbateh, aka Jungle 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 war time 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. 

Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project collaborated with the U.S. authorities on the investigation since 2014.

This 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. Our team of lawyers produced daily legal monitoring summarizing the trial proceeding.

Civitas Maxima believes that local populations, those who bear the consequences of the gravest war crimes and human rights violations, have the right to accessible and unbiased information about any extra-territorial trials of alleged war criminals.

In order to make justice procedures accessible, we incorporate creative tools involving grassroots participation of artists, filmmakers, and reporters. To see our outreach efforts click here.

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. 

11 June 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. His sentencing has been postponed and is expected in 2019. 

Civitas Maxima and its Liberian sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) assisted the U.S. authorities during the investigation. 

This trial was 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. 

Daily legal monitoring summarizing the trial proceeding was produced by qualified U.S. attorneys of the Akin Gump law firm.

Civitas Maxima believes that local populations, those who bear the consequences of the gravest war crimes and human rights violations, have the right to accessible and unbiased information about any extra-territorial trials of alleged war criminals.

In order to make justice procedures accessible, we incorporate creative tools involving grassroots participation of artists, filmmakers, and reporters. To see our outreach efforts click here.

The Files of Civitas Maxima

The lawyers and investigators mandated by Civitas Maxima are working on three distinct geographic situations:

  • Liberia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Sierra Leone

Civitas Maxima has assembled over 600 files of victims of international crimes in these three countries and has identified certain individuals suspected of committing international crimes and, in several cases, has assisted national prosecutors in initiating criminal cases.

The Statistics

In spite of the large number of types of jurisdiction available to domestic and international prosecutors and investigators, recent history shows that prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes remains the exception rather than the rule. Since the end of World War II and up to 2008, it is estimated that the world has experienced 313 conflicts, which have taken the lives of 92 million people, most of whom were civilians. According to Professor Cherif Bassiouni, less than 1% of those responsible for these deaths were tried and legal proceedings were initiated in only 53 of the 313 conflicts (17% of the cases). At the same time, it is worth noting that in 126 of the 313 conflicts mentioned, 40% of the cases, amnesty laws were passed for the crimes committed.

While the ICC has undeniably had a very important impact on the struggle against impunity since its establishment in 2002, it is also true that the number of crimes that the prosecutor has pursued have been marginal in relation to the total number of crimes committed since its establishment. As of today, 25 cases have been brought before the ICC. Only 4 individuals have so far been convicted and 12 accused remain at large.

The Different types of Jurisdiction

There are several different types of national and international jurisdictions under which alleged perpetrators of international crimes can be investigated, arrested and tried.
Notably these are:

The International Criminal Court (ICC):

The ICC has jurisdiction to preside over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute, which were committed after 1 July, 2002, provided that said crime was committed by a national of a State that has ratified the Rome Statute or on the territory of such a State. Jurisdiction can also be triggered through a request from the United Nations Security Council or by a State (whether signatory or not to the Rome Statute) asking the Prosecutor to open an investigation of crimes committed on its territory.

Territorial Jurisdiction:

As a general rule, national criminal courts have jurisdiction to try all persons, native or foreign, who have committed any crime within their national borders, regardless of the nationality of the victim and the alleged perpetrator.

Universal Jurisdiction:

Some states have provisions in their laws granting their domestic courts jurisdiction to investigate and try all persons, regardless of their nationality and their location or residence, suspected to have committed international crimes, even if such crimes were committed on the territory of another state against foreign nationals. In many countries, however, the exercise of universal jurisdiction in practice is restricted to potential accused persons who are present in their territory and who can realistically be investigated and/or arrested (forum deprehensionis).

Jurisdiction based on active personality:

Most national legal systems provide for jurisdiction over their own nationals suspected of certain international criminal activity, even if the crime(s) were committed outside their own borders against a foreign national.

Jurisdiction based on passive personality:

In a certain number of countries, laws provide for jurisdiction over any person committing certain international crimes against one of its nationals, even if the crime was committed by a foreign national in a foreign country.

When victims of international crimes cannot obtain justice in the country where the crimes were committed (territorial jurisdiction) because of political or other reasons, Civitas Maxima strives to pursue justice on their behalf in other countries, using one of the remaining forms of jurisdiction (universal jurisdiction/forum deprehensionis, active personality and passive personality), or in international legal fora, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC).