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How do we do investigations?
Through our local partners and sister organization, we approach victims/witnesses that we interview, following a basic but effective procedure. Interviews are only conducted with the full informed consent of the victim/witness. Following any investigation, Civitas Maxima stores all relevant information in a secure electronic database for factual and legal analysis to identify alleged perpetrators and appropriate accountability avenues on behalf of the victim(s).
By first meeting directly with victims and witnesses to document crimes and collect evidence, and then following the evidence wherever it leads, Civitas Maxima employs a “bottom-up” approach to documentation. In some instances, we have potential targets in mind when initiating an investigation, but often we do not. Either way: every investigation starts on the ground with interviews of victims conducted by us or our very close partners. We conduct thorough investigations before any litigation is initiated.
Civitas Maxima’s hands-on approach stands out from the typical practice of other organizations in the field of international criminal justice, in which investigations are often spurred by information and evidence collected by other parties. Civitas Maxima controls its investigation process completely.
How do we build a case?
Civitas Maxima’s Approach to Case Initiation is Pragmatic and Result-Oriented.
We initiate cases whenever, wherever and however possible.
Whenever: Civitas Maxima takes a long-term view to pursuing justice for victims. The kind of crimes we investigate often have a long statute of limitations or none at all, which allows us to initiate legal proceedings against perpetrators even a long time after the crimes were committed. If an alleged perpetrator that we have evidence against does not live in a country with fair and impartial justice mechanisms allowing for criminal prosecutions, we nevertheless continue to collect information on the crimes they allegedly committed and preserve it. This enables us to be prepared to file a complaint against the alleged perpetrator if they travel or relocate to another country where this is possible, or if prosecution become possible at a later stage in the country they reside.
Wherever: Given that prosecution for war-time crimes is often not possible in the countries where the crimes were allegedly committed, Civitas Maxima pursues justice for victims in other countries when we discover that a person against whom we have collected evidence is present in a country which has fair and impartial justice mechanisms and laws that provide jurisdiction to prosecute them. In this situation, the bulk of the evidence, including the majority of witnesses, is typically located thousands of miles away from the authorities conducting the investigation. Under such circumstances, Civitas Maxima functions as the link between the victims, witnesses and other evidence in the country the crimes were committed, and the authorities in the country in which the alleged perpetrator or victims are present, triggering jurisdiction. We do this in various ways: by collaborating with the investigating authorities as much as they require – assisting them in finding relevant evidence and providing any logistical and other assistance required; by formally representing the victims as civil parties to the proceedings; or collaborating with local lawyers who are qualified to do this in the relevant country.
However: Legal systems with jurisdiction over foreign alleged perpetrators do not always have legislation permitting criminal prosecutions of such persons for the historic war-time crimes they allegedly committed (such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, or torture). In such cases, creative legal approaches are necessary. For example, in the United States it is rarely legally possible to charge a non-citizen with international crimes. However, it can be possible to charge them with other federal criminal offenses, such as immigration fraud and perjury for lying about their involvement in international crimes to immigration authorities. This was the case in the “Jungle Jabbah trial”, where Mohammed Jabbateh was convicted for immigration-related crimes. While it is clearly preferable for perpetrators of war-time crimes to be prosecuted and convicted for the atrocities they were involved in, where this is not legally possible, using alternative legal avenues – particularly those that enable victims and witnesses to testify in court about their experiences – can nonetheless obtain meaningful justice for the victims. We understand from many of Jungle Jabbah’s victims that what held the most significance for them was not the specific crime for which he was convicted. Rather, the significance for them lay in the fact that, for the first time, a leader of a warring faction was criminally tried in connection to atrocities committed during the First Liberian Civil War, and that they had been given a chance to tell their stories. The wider Liberian public celebrated the case as a success in the fight against impunity.
As part of its flexible and creative legal approach in cases where national criminal proceedings are not at all possible, Civitas Maxima may launch civil proceedings (for example claims for monetary damages) against an alleged perpetrator. In other situations, we might also engage with international, regional, criminal, or human rights courts which have jurisdiction.