Attempt to silence victims’ quests for justice: Agnes Reeves Taylor sues Civitas Maxima and Global Justice and Research Project in Liberia
Ms. Agnes Reeves Taylor, ex-wife of Charles Taylor, was charged in the United Kingdom (UK) with seven counts of torture and one count of conspiracy to commit torture in relation to her involvement with the rebel group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during the First Liberian Civil War. The UK prosecution authorities proceeded under s. 134 of the Criminal Justice Act of 1988. This provision implements certain obligations imposed on State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (UNCAT).
Arrested in June 2017, her case was later dismissed in December 2019, as the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to prove that the NPFL had the requisite authority – i.e., exercising official or quasi-official functions, as opposed to mere military control – over the relevant territory at the time that the crimes in question were committed. Establishing this authority over territory is necessary – according to a decision made by the UK Supreme Court – to be able to try a member of a non-State armed group with torture. The Central Criminal Court therefore dismissed the case.
Since her return to Liberia, Ms. Reeves Taylor has attempted to make false portrayals of the case brought against her by the British Metropolitan Police and has engaged in historic revisionism. She has claimed that the case was dismissed because the Court determined that she did not commit any acts of torture.
This could not be further from the truth.
The ruling rendered by Judge Sweeney on 6 December 2019 reads on paragraph 20 as follows:
“For the purposes of the application it was not disputed by the defendant (Agnes Reeves Taylor) that there is prima facie evidence (all dates in 1990) that:
« (1) She held high rank in the NPFL and, when dressed in military clothing and armed carried out, whether personally, or by giving orders, or by acquiescing in, the acts of torture the subject of Counts 2-5, 7 & 8 – all of which took place in, or on the border of, Nimba County. (…) ». (Emphasis added).
The allegations of torture brought by victims against Agnes Reeves Taylor were considered credible enough by UK judicial authorities to issue the initial indictment and arrest her. Then, by acknowledging that there was prima facie evidence of acts of torture, the Court accepted that ‘at a first glance’, these acts were established.
Despite this, the legal test relating to the territorial authority of the NPFL posed the obstacle to the case progressing to trial. It was for this reasonthat Ms. Reeves Taylor did not face trial and the prima facie evidence against her would not be decisively assessed in a UK court of law.
In July 2020, taking advantage of impunity prevailing in Liberia, Ms. Reeves Taylor declared in a press conference held in Monrovia that the work of Hassan Bility and the Global Justice and Research Project “ha[d] to stop”.
Following up on her threats, Ms. Reeves Taylor then filed a civil claim before the sixth judicial circuit of the civil law court of Montserrado County, Liberia. Through this lawsuit, Ms. Reeves Taylor claims “malicious prosecution and wrong” against the GJRP, Civitas Maxima, Hassan Bility (Director of GJRP) and Alain Werner (Director of Civitas Maxima). She has also requested 15,000,000 USD in general damages to “restore her prestige and reputation and compensate her for the injury against her person”.
Civitas Maxima and GJRP provided initial information to the UK relevant authorities in this case. The Metropolitan Police conducted its own lengthy investigations – separately and independently from Civitas Maxima and GJRP – and decided to arrest and charge Agnes Reeves Taylor.
A case against Civitas Maxima and the GJRP for the incarceration of Agnes Reeves Taylor in the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2019 should not stand in any independent court of law with fair and due process.
We echo the words of U.S ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice Beth Van Schaack, which she wrote after her recent visit to Liberia in 2022: “Liberia faces many challenges when it comes to justice and accountability, not only for the terrible war crimes committed during two consecutive civil wars, but also for ordinary crimes and corruption. Impunity is corrosive; when it is allowed to flourish in one sector, it will undermine the foundations of peace and the rule of law across an entire society. […] Liberians can be proud of the work of their compatriots in the GJRP who are working hard to support war crimes accountability. They should also be concerned, as am I, that the GJRP’s work has resulted in threats and intimidation against their staff members.”
People like Agnes Reeves Taylor may find our work troublesome, but we will continue to be on the side of those who have suffered heinous crimes and want justice.