U.S. Court: Alien Tort Statute





On February 12, 2018, CJA and pro-bono co-counsel Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP filed suit against Moses Thomas, the former commander of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia for his alleged role in the Lutheran Church massacre, one of the single deadliest attacks against civilians in Liberia’s history.

The suit alleges that Thomas oversaw and commanded an elite unit and a death squad to enter St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the night of July 29, 1990, and ordered the indiscriminate attack of nearly 2,000 civilians seeking refuge within the church.  At the time of the attack, the church was set up as a humanitarian aid center under the protection of the Red Cross.  Over the course of one night, six hundred unarmed civilians were shot and hacked to death.  CJA’s clients, whose identities have been kept secret for their protection, were forced to hide under piles of dead bodies and witness the slaughter of their loved ones and community.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act, two federal statutes that permit civil suits in U.S. courts to remedy a limited set of human rights violations.  In relation to the massacre and the harm to our clients, CJA alleged that Thomas is liable for extrajudicial killing, torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetrated over the course of the Lutheran Church Massacre.