Thank you, and a Recap of 2021
Despite the real challenges we all had to face once again with Covid-19 this year, the work of Civitas Maxima has not stopped. In fact, 2021 was the busiest year by far since our creation in 2012, and our work contributed one way or another to 2 international crimes trials held over 4 different countries over 2 continents, with hearings from February to December.
February-March: The trial of Alieu Kosiah, former Liberian rebel commander arrested in 2014 for alleged war crimes committed during the First Liberian Civil War, continued for 3 weeks in front of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona after its start in December 2020. Several victims were represented in Court by the lawyers of Civitas Maxima.
February-June: The trial of former Sierra Leonean rebel commander Gibril Massaquoi, accused of war-related crimes committed in Liberia from 2001 to 2003 started in Tampere, Finland, in February. Civitas Maxima had provided the initial information about Gibril Massaquoi’s alleged crimes in Liberia to authorities in Finland. In a ground-breaking move, the Finnish Court relocated to hold hearings in Liberia, Monrovia, from February to April, and in Sierra Leone, Freetown, in May. From the end of May to June, it continued hearings back in Finland before recessing for the summer.
March: Our Liberian sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) and the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom organized with our assistance a Roadmap to Accountability Conference in Monrovia on 19 and 20 March. This event allowed commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), legislators, traditional Chiefs, youth leaders, political parties’ representatives, members of the Liberia Bar Association, civil society academics and international stakeholders to discuss ways to overcome the barriers to accountability for past crimes in Liberia during the two civil wars.
April: The investigating chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals in France confirmed that Kunti K, former Liberian rebel commander, would be tried for crimes against humanity, torture and barbarism for acts allegedly committed during the First Liberian Civil War. Initially arrested in 2018, the trial is expected to take place over 4 weeks from October 10 to November 4, 2022. Civitas Maxima will be a civil party in Court in this case.
June: On June 18, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court issued a landmark verdict in the Alieu Kosiah case. Mr. Kosiah was found guilty of war crimes, including for the direct murder of 4 civilians, ordering to kill 13 other civilians and 2 soldiers, one act of rape and one of cannibalism. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This set precedents for both Switzerland and Liberia: as the first war crimes case before the Federal Criminal Court, and the first ever trial of a Liberian national for war crimes committed during the Liberian civil conflicts.
August: The Knowledge and Training Center (KTC) of Civitas Maxima gave its first signature training on strategic litigation for extraterritorial cases to a civil society group on strategic litigation for extraterritorial cases, in Ukraine. The KTC was set up to provide practical tools to other NGOs and share our experience on working with many national police officers and prosecutors. Civitas Maxima had already given a legal and documentation training in 2020 for members of civil society from Venezuela and collaborated in reviewing the work and documentation process of an NGO from Egypt.
August-December: The trial of Gibril Massaquoi resumed in Tampere, Finland, with another unexpected twist, the Court decided to travel back to Monrovia, Liberia a second time, and hold further hearings there. Additional witnesses were therefore heard in Monrovia in September and October. Hearings resumed at the end of October in Finland and have yet to be concluded after over 100 witnesses heard in 3 countries. A verdict is expected in spring 2022.
Civitas Maxima has collaborated with Liberian partners, Sierra Leonean partners, the Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration of Washington University, United States, The Hague University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands, and Finnish partners, to provide a daily monitoring of the Gibril Massaquoi trial over 2 continents. A monitoring of the Alieu Kosiah case was also done and will be uploaded in 2022.
Furthermore, Civitas Maxima and its partners have also continued to extensively work with lawyers and national authorities on both public and non-public cases, and we expect further developments in the coming months.
None of this would be possible without your incredible and unwavering trust. We take this occasion to deeply thank every person, institution, and organization who believe in the quest for justice, and in us. 2021 has been an unprecedented year in the level of support we received from our donors.
We are very much looking forward to 2022.
The Civitas Maxima Team
Cover image credit: Tim Hetherington/Imperial War Museum