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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Liberia: Profiting From War Victims: Justice 1, Human Rights Watch 0

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Former Pentagon official Michael Rubin reveals in an article published in the Washington Examiner, a troubling pattern of fraud and witness tampering by groups like Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project, which have profited handsomely from documenting war crimes in Liberia while compromising the integrity of the legal process.

Rubin details how these organizations, along with the Center for Justice and Accountability, have engaged in a concerted effort to position themselves as the gatekeepers for the new Liberian court, even as evidence emerged of their complicity in tainting witness testimony.

Their efforts were bolstered by the support of Beth Van Schaack, the Biden administration’s ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, who previously worked for the CJA during the height of its dubious activities in Liberia.

The article underscores a broader crisis of integrity within the human rights community, where political agendas and financial interests too often take precedence over the pursuit of justice for victims of atrocities.

Below is the full text

The human rights community today is like the tenured professorship in elite universities. Political groupthink trumps integrity, and inside dealing predominates.

Academics might argue among themselves over theoretical intricacies or departmental issues, but as soon as an outside perspective challenges political assumptions or agendas, they circle the wagons.

Over the past decade, I have written repeatedly about fraud in the human rights community as groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International prioritize political agendas over objective methodology and standards. Too often, they put their own bottom lines above any responsibility to the real victims of human rights abuse.

Finally, victims of human rights violations are waking up to the cynicism, double-dealing, and dishonesty of groups that claim to be the gatekeepers of the human rights community.

Here, grassroots Liberians deserve credit.

Liberia suffered two devastating civil wars, taking a quarter of a million lives at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. The United Nations helped restore peace, but Liberia’s democracy has been tenuous.

George Weah, a soccer star who rose to the presidency in 2018, violated every promise to implement a War and Economic Crimes Court to hold those responsible for atrocities to account, choosing instead to surround himself with those who might otherwise find themselves in its docket.

As Liberians fought for justice, some groups sought to profit. Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima sold itself to donors as an effective group hunting down war criminals and forcing them to face justice.

Its press releases documented a number of so-called triumphs, each of which the group was able to utilize to gather more grants from groups such as the California-based Center for Justice and Accountability and the State Department itself.

The problem, however, is that Civitas Maxima and its local Liberian partner, Global Justice and Research Project, coached witnesses and falsified testimony.

In one high-profile case, a Finnish court twice acquitted Gibril Massaquoi on a variety of war crimes charges. While Civitas Maxima witnesses initially testified they witnessed him commit crimes, he had an airtight alibi:

At the time of the war crimes, Massaquoi was an informant working in close coordination with the chief investigator of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which had him in its protective custody and under 24-hour guard. Confronted with such evidence, Civitas Maxima witnesses admitted the witness-tampering scheme.

On June 13, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the way forward for Liberia. There is reason for optimism. In January, Joseph Boakai replaced Weah and signed an executive order to establish the office of the War and Economic Crimes Court.

Human Rights Watch, testifying on behalf of a variety of groups including Civitas Maxima, the Global Justice and Research Project, and the Center for Justice and Accountability, argued that it and its compromised allies should be the gatekeepers for the court’s staffing.

This raised hackles among legitimate human rights activists inside Liberia, given the fraud in which Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project appear to have engaged and the Center for Justice and Accountability’s responsibility for funding it.

Liberians are furious that Beth Van Schaack, the Biden administration’s ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, has not only refused to recuse herself given her previous role at the Center for Justice and Accountability during the height of its Liberia grantee’s fraud but that she circled the wagons after exposure of the witness tampering.

This violates the Office of Government Ethics guidelines, which prohibit endorsing or supporting organizations with which officials were previously affiliated.

Boakai, to his credit, has slammed the door on Human Rights Watch, Van Schaack, and their efforts to profit off of Liberia’s tragedy.

On June 20, the Liberian president appointed Jonathan Massaquoi, a lawyer who had represented a victim of the Civitas Maxima fraud, to head the court. Human Rights Watch, which demanded a Liberian face, should have no choice but to accept.

Liberians celebrate because they know Massaquoi will have no tolerance for the slipshod methodology or profit-first motivations of establishment human rights groups and their local partners. Score 1 for justice, 0 for Human Rights Watch.

By Michael Rubin

Washington Examiner

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