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Response by Liberia’s Solicitor General (Cllr. Sayma Cephus) to Cllr. Jerome J. Verdier’s Letter to the War Crimes Court in the Hague to Prosecute Mayor Koijee

Click the link below to read a copy of Counsellor Jerome Verdier’s Letter to the Chief Prosecutor at the War Crimes Court in the Hague:

IJG Writes Int’l Criminal Court – Wants Monrovia City Mayor Prosecuted for crimes

16 JANUARY 2020

Information and Evidence Unit

Office of The Prosecutor

P.O. BOX 19519

2500 CM THE HAGUE

THE NETHERLANDS

Dear Madam Prosecutor:

 I present my profound compliments and best wishes and have the honor most respectfully to introduce myself. I am Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus,  a certified counsel on the list of counsel of the International Criminal Court (ICC), pursuant to the criteria set forth in Rule 22 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) and Regulation 67 of the Regulations of the Court; a   founding member of the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA) since 2016.

Also, I am a member on the list of counsels of the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), member on the list of counsels of the Association of Defence Counsel Practicing before all International Courts and Tribunals (ADC-ICT), The Hague, Vice President, AEA International Lawyers Network (AEA), (Madrid, Spain) Vice President to the Advisory Board of Justinian Lawyers (JL), (Madrid, Spain), member of the European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA), European Fraud and Compliance Lawyers (EFCL); member of International Law Association (ILA), International Association of Prosecutors (IAP); listed counsel on the human rights list of counsels of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights based in Arusha, Tanzania, and member of the Liberian Supreme Court Bar.

 I have decided to provide Your Honour with this background and my role and involvement with these esteemed international institutions for two basic reasons. First, as a legal practitioner, I strongly value my role to act and humbly present myself, as always, before any court of law, and to be truthful and faithful in presenting facts respectfully backed by incontestable evidence, and to assist the Court in the administration of justice, no matter whose interest is involved.

Secondly,  I wholeheartedly subscribe to the tenets of international justice, and as the only practicing courtroom lawyer from my country admitted to the list of counsel of the ICC, coupled with my current role and position in the Government of the Republic of Liberia under His Excellency, President George Manneh Weah, as the Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of Liberia,  and whose responsibility it is to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of criminal offenses, including but not limited to heinous crimes, i.e., war crimes such as genocide, armed aggression and hostilities and other crimes against humanity.  I will  never support the policy of any regime that promotes the culture of impunity– I  will never play blind eyes to the commission of war crimes, no matter how shielded they may be under the ill-fated argument of defending ‘national security or  sovereignty.’

I, therefore, come to, or assume the prosecution office of my dear country with a huge and self-effacing international reputation and character, backed by more than a decade in years of training, experience and practice rarely comparable, and perhaps hardly ever seen anywhere in the annals of law practice amongst my legal peers in Liberia.

This letter is written in respect of a seemingly politically motivated communication authored by Cllr.  Jerome J. Verdier, Sr., a Liberian citizen, and lawyer, titled: “Liberia Referral,” in which he craves the indulgence of Your Honour’s office to investigate alleged human rights violations, i.e., war crimes, aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity said to have occurred or occurring currently under the administration of His Excellency President George Manneh Weah.

While this is not an attempt to counter the free expression of his opinion, for the fact that the 1986 Constitution of Liberia grants every Liberian citizen the right to hold an unfettered view of events, it is, however, difficult, if not impossible to draw any clear line of reasoning between the content of his communication and the objective of the “ Liberia Referral” pursuant to Article 13, specifically taking into account the non-existence of the conditions of Article 5 of the Rome Statute within the Republic of Liberia at the moment,  to warrant such a referral.

Further, Article 13 titled: “Exercise of jurisdiction” of the Rome Statute states: “The court may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to a crime referred in Article 5 in accordance with the provisions of this statute if: (a) “A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by a state party in accordance with Article 14.”  Also, Article 5 of the Rome Statute refers to the limitation of the court’s jurisdiction to the most serious crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, none of which has been committed or perpetrated by any Liberian citizen under the administration of His Excellency President George Manneh Weah.

This is why the content of the “Liberia Referral” appears to have been tailored or structured on the foundations of innuendoes, half-truths and gross inaccuracies, and it seems a subterfuge employed by Cllr. Verdier and his benefactors to use the ICC to intimidate their perceived enemies and staunch political rivals in Liberia. This clarification is imperative because as a lawyer on the list of counsel, who is  qualified to practice before  this Honourable Court, it behooves me not just to frown upon and condemn any egregious commission of crimes, including but not limited to war crimes, and report the alleged perpetrators to the Court,  but also to be the first public official if such conditions were to  exist,  to quit  and  resign my position in opposition to any regime or institution that commits these heinous crimes in the name of defending ‘national sovereignty.’

At the moment, there are no “ongoing war crimes, genocide,  aggression, and crimes against humanity” being committed under the administration of President Weah, as alleged by Cllr. Verdier. Indeed, Cllr. Verdier has no legitimate grounds or compelling  evidence of the alleged atrocious human rights abuses and violations  to ask the office of the Chief Prosecutor  to  consider  and  treat the Republic of Liberia  as an “ICC  Situation.” 

Moreover, I need not belabor the issue that the Rome Statute which created the ICC came into force on 1 July 2002,  and the Republic of  Liberia acceded to the treaty on 20 September 2004, with a grace period of sixty days(60) added thereto; thus, the Republic of Liberia officially became an effective ICC member state in November 2004, (considering the 60 days rule) which is why the ICC cannot retroactively try all alleged crimes committed prior to the date of inception of the treaty.

To the best of my knowledge, at both the two training sessions that I have attended and even now, I have not heard of or to aptly put, there’s no legal precedent in this regard. Hence, if such crimes, from the perception of Cllr. Verdier has occurred; they certainly do not fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Thus, events relating to the Liberian civil war that took place after 1 July 2002 or November 2004 would only fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC if, and only if, such alleged human rights abuses and violations reached the high threshold of Article 5 of the Rome Statute, i.e. genocide or crimes against humanity, something which is unlikely because the Republic of Liberia officially acceded to the treaty on 20 September 2004.

Besides, if such threshold exists, which is not the case, the ICC can only assume jurisdiction in a context where the current Liberian Government, by and through the office of the Chief Prosecutor, cannot, will not, or is unwilling to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.   Furthermore, this argument is strengthened by the fact that Liberia is a  dualist and not a  monist state. The Rome Statutes became binding on Liberia after the Liberian legislature domesticated its provisions, as I have mentioned earlier.

Be that as it may, I can rightly say for the record, that the Government of Liberia has not and will never lend a blind eye to credible information of some of the alleged horrific tales of barbarous crimes that were committed between 14 April 1979, and 2003 which is the period highlighted in the controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report.

However, it is mindboggling to note that Cllr. Verdier, a protégé of some of those who led the terror campaign against the Liberian State that took away the lives of over 250,000 Liberians including women, children and the elderly, did not raise or make this “Liberia Referral” when he was appointed and subsequently served as TRC Chairman under the former administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  

What is important to note, however,  is that there is absolutely nothing under the Liberian Criminal Procedure Law, that prevents the office of the Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic from arresting, indicting and prosecuting alleged perpetrators of the most heinous crimes of human rights abuses and violations, i.e., cold bloody murder, ethnic cleansing, armed aggression, or illegally invading and killing in cold blood a person on a foreign soil from inside Liberia which were allegedly committed during the civil war.

This means that there is no statute of limitations for the prosecution of these crimes which are duly cognizable or triable in Liberian courts, provided, however, there is a compelling horde of material or incontrovertible evidence to prove such allegations at trial— a process which is gradually being reviewed and analyzed, and regarding which, sooner or later, there could be arrests and indictments of alleged perpetrators of the crimes described above.

That said, Cllr. Verdier’s “Liberia Referral” situation is somewhat asymmetrical in context and character, and it demonstrates his apparent lack of understanding of the procedure regarding the application of Article 14 titled: “Referral of a Situation by a State Party.” The Article 14 application requirement does not apply to an institution or an individual making a referral and then requesting the Prosecutor to investigate a situation and determine whether one or more specific persons should be charged with war crimes. Instead, it refers to a state party of the ICC.

The anomaly associated with the “Liberia Referral” is that the International Justice Group (IJG) is not a state party; there is no evidence whatsoever to prove that the Republic of Liberia is an ICC situation to warrant the solicitation of Article 15 subsections (1) and (2) of the Rome Statute which Cllr. Verdier has based his entire referral on.

Besides, it is an open secret that the ICC can only exercise jurisdiction over offenses committed after the Rome Statute came into effect and not before its inception.   This increasingly makes Mr. Verdier’s “Liberia Referral” letter seems more of a grandstand or a political stunt intended only to gain public attention.

As indicated, the crimes of rape, murder, plunder and looting committed in Liberia can only be prosecuted by the Liberian State, using its national laws. I am therefore impelled by common sense and a contrite heart to inform you that a gradual appraisal process of these crimes, using the “Palava Hut” model, is expected soon to commence a formal criminal investigation which will be duly supported by the Government of Liberia. 

The prosecution of crimes of these nature falls outside of the inception of the Rome Statute. Notwithstanding, crimes such as murder, rape, mayhem and terror committed during the periods cited inter alia, will be investigated and prosecuted within the context of complementarity–a key principle of the ICC statute, which instructs that national prosecutors and national courts should address the most serious international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide), where possible, and that the ICC should be viewed as complementarity to such local processes, as a court of ‘last resort’.

Furthermore, the alleged empowering of the City Mayor of Monrovia, Mr. Jefferson Koijee, by President Weah, as alleged by Cllr. Verdier is rather vague and indistinctive as it is not clear what is meant by “empowering” — but assuming, without admitting, that Cllr. Verdier’s definition of “empowering” means the commission of war crimes, aggression or crimes against humanity, which is not the case, then, his “Liberia Referral” seems more a figment of his imagination rather than the peaceful democratic environment that exists in Liberia today, where citizens are allowed to express themselves without any form of molestation freely. Perhaps the only reason for Cllr. Verdier’s creation of a rather precarious image of the healthy democratic environment that exists in Liberia is to mislead international public opinion by creating the mistaken impression that the ICC can automatically assume jurisdiction over perceived human rights violations that are not supported by any cogent evidence.

It is regrettable to say that Cllr. Verdier’s “ Liberia Referral”  is predicated principally on his perception that: “…the rule of law under President Weah may be undermined by individuals whose records do not inspire confidence in attaining the goals of fighting corruption, ending impunity,  and promising national reconciliation as well as transparency in public management…” even though he once robbed shoulders, and joyously interacted, with these same alleged perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity when he served as the TRC Chairman. At that time, Cllr. Verdier’s ICC referral was not necessary but now that he is out of a job and is struggling, suddenly, it is imperative!

This is exactly what the struggle for political relevance in Liberia is—oppose and undermine whatever the ruling party supports and support, harass and accuse the ruling party of whatever it allegedly did or is not doing, to the international community to gain recognition. Liberia is replete with such horrific tales cleverly crafted on the foundations of tirade and recrimination.  

Cllr. Verdier’s Liberia Referral is a replica of the LEAGUE OF NATIONS investigation in the 1930s, in which the Republic of Liberia was accused of “slave labor,” but the only evidence of “forced labor” was found. At that time there existed no international tribunal of the stature and character of the ICC, having its listed counsel scattered around the world; and hence, it was very easy for anyone to put a spin on issues, spread disinformation and mislead the international community, as was the case with the League of Nations.

But with the level of technological advancement, making the world a global village, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do so. Cllr. Verdier’s allegations of human rights abuses, i.e. war crimes, crimes against humanity, aggression, and genocide being committed under the administration of President Weah are absolutely untrue.

However, inasmuch as the desire to prosecute past crimes allegedly committed during the Liberian civil war may seem greater and demanding, the Government of Liberia is increasingly faced with a serious headache in clearly analyzing and defining the actual conclusion of the TRC report. 

The reason is that the entire TRC findings and recommendations were marred with a barrage of controversies, ranging from allegations of political interferences and lack of due process to unbridled partisanship and court challenges, much of which was primarily credited to Cllr. Verdier’s overbearing and alleged poor judgment as well as his alleged lack of vision to understand the enormity of the task that he had openly sworn to impartially perform. 

It is frustrating to say that the TRC report has become a political “white elephant”, with millions of taxpayers money spent on its hearings and investigations, yet its recommendations cannot be implemented because of the litany of unanswered questions and bad judgments that decorate its pages — it has become a subject of emotional debate, and denial and rejection wherever it is introduced for discussion.

Perhaps unable to withstand the multiple of questions being asked by most Liberians, including some TRC commissioners as to how some of the findings or recommendations were derived, with Liberian Supreme Court challenges and claims of the lack of due process, Cllr. Verdier had no choice but to take flight and is now using his absence from the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia to propagate the enforcement of his controversial TRC report through the ICC.  

I want to emphasize that upon challenges being made before the Supreme Court,  the Court after a careful judicial review of the arguments presented by both sides,  discredited a number of the conclusions and recommendations of the TRC for the very reason that the Commission sought to convict persons and have judgments inflicted against and upon them without according them the opportunity to appear before a court of competent jurisdiction to defend against the conclusions and their alleged implications. It is this same Cllr. Verdier, without any substantial evidence being presented, has undertaken a referral.

In any case, if the decision arises, and which is very much likely, to assess and analyze events covering the periods contained in the controversial TRC report, the exercise may not include a revolt by a group of citizens against their government or the alleged misconduct of a legitimate army acting according to its constitutional oath of office but shall not however preclude the prosecution of perpetrators of cold bloody murder, rape, etc.

Therefore, I humbly crave Your Honour’s kind indulgence not to allow a complaint that is premised on sheer perception or driven by personal hatred and envy, which do not comply with relevant provisions of the Rome Statute and its inception, to obfuscate the uplifting attention of your great office to such a stale referral.

As I indicated during my participation at two separate and distinct training sessions at the ICC, I shall forever remain a submissive legal counsel of this great Court and supportive of its pioneering efforts to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes, aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity in all troubled regions of the world to end the culture of impunity and restore international justice.

In closing, the Government of President George Manneh Weah has not, and will never encourage or shield alleged perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, aggression, and crimes against humanity committed immediately following the commencement of the Rome Statute or in the period after Liberia acceded to the ICC Treaty in November 2004, let alone empowering a city mayor to commit war crimes and other forms of violence.

But mere allegation under our law is not proof. Thus the Government must first satisfy itself that a violation has been committed. We care and are prepared, on the satisfaction that the evidence is sufficient, to investigate, as warranted, persons who are alleged to have committed heinous offenses will be invited and subsequently arrested when it becomes necessary.

Thanks.

Faithfully,

Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus

THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL & CHIEF PROSECUTOR

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