Debevoise and CJA Win Historic Victory in Landmark Liberian Human Rights Case

21 September 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, along with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and Blank Rome LLP, have won a historic decision in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania finding Col. Moses Thomas liable for the massacre of 600 civilians at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, Liberia, on July 29, 1990.

The court found that Thomas ordered and directed the Lutheran Church massacre, one of the deadliest civilian massacres in Liberia’s First Civil War, and is liable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, and torture, pursuant to the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

“This is a long-awaited victory for our clients and for all the victims of the Lutheran Church massacre, who have fought to seek justice for the atrocities of Liberia’s civil wars for over three decades,” said Debevoise counsel Elizabeth Nielsen. “While much remains to be done to hold those responsible for the atrocities of Liberia’s civil wars to account, the court’s decision is an important first step.”

For more information, please see CJA’s press release.

Debevoise originally filed a complaint against Thomas in February 2018, together with CJA and Blank Rome LLP serving as co-counsel and the Global Justice and Research Project providing local investigative support. The court found that Thomas, as commander of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), ordered his unit to attack the Lutheran Church, a designated Red Cross humanitarian shelter where 2,000 unarmed civilians sought refuge from the escalating violence of the Liberian Civil War. The court further found that AFL soldiers indiscriminately killed approximately 600 civilians during the attack. The four Liberian plaintiffs in the present lawsuit survived the massacre by hiding under piles of dead bodies until the soldiers left. In December 2018, Debevoise and the CJA defeated a motion to dismiss the case.

The Debevoise team is led by partner Catherine Amirfar and counsel Elizabeth Nielsen, and includes associates Tatiana August-Schmidt, Taylor Booth, Moeun Cha, Megan Corrarino, Gabrielle McKenzie, Duncan Pickard, Katherine Seifert and Harold Williford and former associate Alyssa Yamamoto.