Photo Credit: The Liberian Quest for Justice Artist: JP Kalonji, 2018. Copyright: Civitas Maxima
By Dru Spiller
In a year that has been fraught with tensions about immigration bans based on religion and national origin, a surprising human rights victory has emerged from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On April 19, 2018, the war criminal Mohammed Jabbateh “Jungle Jabbah” was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment after being found guilty of two counts of fraud and two counts of perjury in connection to his false reporting on immigration documents.
In the community of East Landsdowne, Pennsylvania Mohammed Jabbeteh seemed like a family man. He arrived in the United States in the late 1990’s under an application for US asylum and obtained permanent residence. Between the end of the First Liberian Civil War in 1998 and before his arrest in 2016, for all intents and purposes, Jabbateh was living his American immigrant dream. He had married, started a family and ran a business named Jabateh Brothers Loading Services that ships containers to Liberia. However, before his arrival to the US, Jabbateh had taken on the nom de guerre “Jungle Jabbah” and had terrorized Liberians as the commander of the rebel group the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO).
Jabbateh stood accused of personally ordering troops to commit such acts as the murder of civilian noncombatants, the sexual enslavement and public raping of women, torturing civilians, and conscripting child soldiers. His trial began and ended in October of 2017 and included the testimony of 20 witnesses who were flown from Liberia. Over the course of the 3-week trial, witnesses testified to the horrific atrocities they had been subjected to by Jungle Jabbah’s unit. One witness testified about her repeated rapes at the hands of an officer at 13-years-old, another testified that she was forced to cook the heart of two men, including her husband, at the request of Jungle Jabbah for him and his crew to eat, and another testified that in an act against a rival commander, he beat and then shot his pistol into the vagina of her 4-months pregnant sister leaving her to die in the street.
Despite these atrocious acts, the indictment convened not on his alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity but on his false reporting on immigration documents. Jabbateh had previously indicated on his records that he was a member of the ULIMO seeking asylum but reported false statements about his Liberian wartime activities and denied that he had secured asylum fraudulently. The Department of Justice has started to use unorthodox ways to prosecute war criminals in US jurisdiction, and immigration-related charges are becoming the go-to prosecution strategy. This strategy also presents a unique question of sentencing and how much each court is willing to consider the defendant’s history of criminal activity in relation to his immigration charge. The court must then determine where to place the defendant within the sentencing range suggested by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Even still, the case represents the first time that victims of the First Liberian Civil War were able to testify in front of a criminal court. Jabbateh is also the first to be convicted of crimes from the First Liberian Civil War and his sentence of 30 years is one of the longest sentences for immigration fraud in US history. Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maximas has said about the trial, ““For years we have been working tirelessly to pursue justice for victims of the most atrocious crimes. Astonishingly, Liberian victims have been denied justice in their own country so they had to find access to justice elsewhere. The Jungle Jabbah case is an expression of these efforts.” His trial will hopefully be the first of many and begin a new era where alleged war criminals can no longer seek to hide in the US with impunity.
For more information and to learn how to further support this effort please visit The Liberian Quest for Justice.
Civitas Maxima and the GJRP will be leading outreach campaigns and will be monitoring the upcoming trials of alleged Liberian war criminals expected to happen in 2018 and 2019. They have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the continued support of Liberian victims in their fight for justice.
About the GJRP
The Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) is a Liberia-based non-profit, non-governmental organization that documents war crimes and, where possible, seeks justice for victims of these crimes, with the full consent of the victims.
For more information and media inquiries go to www.globaljustice-research.org or contact the GJRP director by phone: 00231778160062.
About Civitas Maxima
Civitas Maxima (CM), based in Geneva, ensures the coordination of a network of international lawyers and investigators who work for the interests of those who have been victims of international crimes, particularly war crimes and crimes against humanity.
For more information and media inquiries, go to www.civitas-maxima.org or contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 0041223461243.