Alain Werner (born 19 November 1972) is a Swiss human rights lawyer, specialized in the defence of victims of armed conflicts, founder and director of Civitas Maxima (CM), an international network of lawyers and investigators based in Geneva that since 2012 represents victims of mass crimes in their attempts to obtain justice.
Education and affiliation
He received his degree in law from Geneva University (Switzerland) (1996) and was admitted to the Bar of Geneva (Switzerland) (1999). He received his masters (LL.M) at Columbia University, New York (2003).
Werner worked in Freetown and in the Hague for five years (2003–2008) for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) prosecuting the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and former Liberian President Charles Taylor. He was also a lawyer for the civil parties (victims) at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on the "Kaing Guek Eav" a.k.a "Duch" case (2009–2010). Since 1998 he also worked for Chadian victims of the former Chadian President Hissène Habré and was the one of civil parties lawyers representing them in Habré’s trial in Dakar (2015–2017) at the Extraordinary African Chambers. In 2012, he founded Civitas Maxima in Geneva, Switzerland.
Werner began studying law in Geneva under Professor Robert Roth (later Presiding Judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon) from 1993 to 1996 just as the discipline of international criminal law was emerging. He went on to complete his masters at Columbia University, after which he was accepted on a Swiss government program to work on international projects. The program took him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he became a Trial Attorney for the OTP of the SCSL in the team prosecuting three RUF commanders following the end of the conflict in 2002. He continued in the program for three years, being then hired directly by the SCSL-OTP as Trial Attorney.
In 2006, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was arrested while in exile in Nigeria and handed over to the SCSL, which had previously indicted him. Werner joined the SCSL prosecution team led by Brenda Hollis and Nicholas Koumjian, gathering witness statements and other evidence, and appearing in Court. Taylor was eventually convicted and, following an unsuccessful appeal, was imprisoned in the UK for a term of 50 years.
Between 2008 and 2017, alongside other projects, Werner worked for Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch on the case of the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, and represented some of the victims for the two-year trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar from 2015 to 2017.
Kaing Guek Eav" a.k.a "Duch"
In 2009, he was invited by Karim Khan QC to join a team working for the victims on the "Kaing Guek Eav" or "Duch" case, the first case heard at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This experience cemented Werner's focus on the importance of documentation and preservation of evidence.
From there he moved to London to the Aegis Trust, an organization dedicated to preventing genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. At Aegis he worked with Hassan Bility, a prominent Liberian journalist who had been arrested and tortured under the Taylor regime. Their focus was on crimes that had been committed in Liberia and on working with partners in Sierra Leone to obtain evidence on the trade by Western players of 'blood diamonds'
At that point, Werner decided to set out on his own network and, in September 2012, he founded Civitas Maxima, an organisation that focuses on the meticulous documentation of mass crimes, and pursue of justice on behalf of the victims.
Since its establishment in 2012, Civitas Maxima, working with its partners ( Global Justice and Research Project in Liberia and Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law in Sierra Leone) has built cases and contributed to the arrest of several individuals suspected of involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, collaborating with several different war crimes units, agents and/or prosecutors in Europe and the United States.
Public Cases of Civitas Maxima
Martina Johnson, a former commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NFPL, group headed by Charles Taylor), was arrested and indicted in 2014 for her implication in mutilations and mass killing committed in Liberia during the First Liberian Civil War.
In 2014, Alieu Kosiah was arrested for suspected involvement in war crimes committed by the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) while fighting the NPFL between 1993 and 1995. In November 2019, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court listed the criminal case against Alieu Kosiah for trial in Bellinzona for April 2020 (14 to 30).
In 2015, Michel Desaedeleer, an American and Belgian citizen, was arrested indicted for enslavement, and pillage of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. Desaedeleer's arrest was the first case ever on international crimes connected to suspected participation in the blood diamond trade. No trial ultimately took place as, shortly before it was due to start, Desaedeleer committed suicide in prison in Brussels.
In 2016, Mohammed Jabbateh (aka Jungle Jabbah) was arrested, indicted and charged by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with two counts of fraud in immigration documents in violation of the 18 U.S.C. § 1546 and two counts of perjury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1621. Jabbateh pleaded "not guilty" on all counts. Jabbateh denied his involvement during the First Liberian Civil War when he sought asylum in the late 1990s. Jabbateh was sentenced to 30 years in prison on April 19.
Agnes Reeves Taylor
In 2017, Agnes Reeves Taylor, ex-wife of Charles Taylor, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police and charged with torture on grounds of her suspected involvement with the NFPL during the First Liberian Civil War. On December 6, 2019, the Central Criminal Court in London decided that Agnes Taylor will not face trial in the UK. “The supreme court refined the interpretation of the law and in light of their judgement, the trial judge granted Agnes Taylor’s application to dismiss the case against her. We will give careful consideration to that ruling,” a CPS spokesperson commented.
In 2018, Kunti K was arrested for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1996) while acting as a commander for the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). He had been in pre-trial detention in Paris, but was released in September 2018 due to a procedural error. Kunti K. was subject to conditions of release, including being prohibited from leaving France. The French and Liberian authorities have continued carrying out investigations on the ground in Liberia. In January 2020, Kunti K. was rearrested by French authorities, after he violated the conditions placed on his release.
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu
In 2018, the trial of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu took place at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania at the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse. Woewiyu— co-founder, and for several years defense minister of Charles Taylor’s infamous National Patriotic Front of Liberia—became one of the few Liberian leaders to be arrested in the United States and charged with multiple counts of immigration fraud and perjury. After a trial in June 2018, featuring testimony from Liberian victims about the NPFL’s crimes, he was convicted and found guilty on eleven counts of immigration-related perjury and fraud related to lying about his violent past. The sentencing hearing was scheduled for October 15, 2018 but has been postponed multiple times.
In April 2019 Werner was awarded the prize Bâtonnier Michel Halpérin for Excellence by the Geneva Bar Association.