On 17 September this year, Martina Johnson a former Liberian rebel commander, was arrested in Belgium. She is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges have been brought thanks to the determination of a Geneva Lawyer, Alain Werner, who specializes in documenting crimes committed during the civil wars in western Africa.
For the charges brought in Belgium, Civitas Maxima, Werner’s NGO, concentrated on the murder of 200 people in two days in a suburb of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. There Martina Johnson allegedly executed the sister of one of the three plaintiffs and shot at point-blank range one other. Allegations from three victims of torture have resulted in action being taken against her. She is also alleged to have been party to the mutilation and murder of five American nuns. Johnson, 22 years old at the time of the murder, was chief of one of Charles Taylor’s units involved in operation “Octopus” one of the most vicious atrocities committed during the war.
Martina Johnson, on bail in Belgium but no longer required to wear an e-bracelet. Photo Courtesy of Nordic African News
Legal action is possible against Johnson because she has lived in Belgium since 2011. The Belgian law of universal competence was watered down in 2003 for pretty shameful political reasons. Previously, a strong human rights standard, it had allowed the prosecution of war criminals from anywhere in the whole world. On its introduction, the law activated an avalanche of charges, in particular against Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Prime Minister, and Donald Rumsfeld, former American Secretary of Defense. Belgium therefore found itself under pressure, in particular from the United States, which threatened to remove NATO from Brussels. The Belgian government caved in resulting in a restricted law.
Like the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, Switzerland has established a special unit for the investigation of international crime and the pursuit of its perpetrators. In light of increasing international political pressure it is fundamental that Swiss prosecutors and federal investigators have the means and the political support to accomplish their work in the fight against impunity.