Cases & Deals

Liberian family wins political asylum

Clients Liberian applicant for U.S. asylum

Jones Day represented a Liberian family in their quest for political asylum. Charles Taylor is the first former African president to be charged with crimes against humanity. He will be tried at the International Criminal Court at the United Nations under the jurisdiction of the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in January 2008. The story of an individual we refer to as "W" is one of persecution and torture that represents precisely the type of crime against humanity for which Taylor will be tried.

Jones Day represents W and his nine family members, all of whom are Liberian citizens, in their efforts to obtain political asylum and protection in this country under the Convention Against Torture. In the summer of 2003, Betsy A. Miller, Russell J. Upton, and Constance M. Dougherty, lawyers in the Washington Office, were retained by W and Human Rights First to represent W and his family in their quest for asylum.

W fled Liberia in 2003, after learning that then-Liberian President, Charles Taylor, was targeting W for execution. This last death threat was simply one event in W's two-decade history of persecution and torture at the hands of Charles Taylor and his rebel forces. W's history as an enemy of Taylor dates back to the 1980s, when W played an instrumental role in the investigation leading to Taylor's arrest for embezzling millions of dollars from the Liberian government while Taylor served as the Director General of the General Services Administration. Following Taylor's arrest for this crime, he escaped from prison and fled to Ghana, where he gathered forces and planned a rebellion against Liberia's incumbent Doe government. While in exile, Taylor also plotted revenge against former Doe government employees, including those such as W, who had been responsible for the investigation leading to Taylor's arrest.

By 1990, Taylor's forces had invaded Liberia and controlled most of the country. Knowing that he was a target, W attempted to flee Liberia's capital city of Monrovia with his family as Taylor's forces closed in. At a Taylor-controlled checkpoint, W was identified by a Taylor soldier, who was a former work colleague of W's in the Doe government. At first, W refused to admit his own identity, but the soldier recognized him and his eldest son. As punishment for lying about his identity, the soldier pulled W's son out of line and brutally executed him - shooting and then disemboweling the child - in the presence of the W, his wife, his children, and several hundred bystanders. Soldiers then beat W's pregnant wife, ultimately causing her to suffer a miscarriage. While W's wife and children were permitted to pass through the checkpoint, W was taken to a makeshift prison where he was interrogated, starved, tortured, and raped. W escaped from the prison only after a rival faction passed through the area and killed the prison guards. He fled into the jungle and ultimately made his way to a village outside Monrovia where he was reunited with his wife and children.

During the 1990s, while a provisional government attempted to keep peace after the years of violent civil war, W attended and graduated from law school. There, W was befriended by a professor and prominent politician, Charles Brumskine, who became his mentor and protector. In 1997, when the provisional government ceded control to Taylor, who had been elected President, W's mentor was appointed president pro tempore of the Liberian Senate. During his campaign for President, Taylor had promised the people of Liberia that he would forgive past political differences and that he would put an end to human rights abuses. Shortly after the election, however, Taylor's enemies began to "disappear." When Brumskine initiated an investigation into the accusation that Taylor was responsible for these disappearances, his life was threatened and he was forced to flee Liberia. Without Brumskine's protection, W and his family lived in constant fear. The last straw came in January of 2003, when W was woken in the middle of the night by a childhood friend who warned him that, because of his support for Brumskine, he was on Taylor's execution list. W was forced to escape from Liberia immediately, with no choice but to leave his wife and children behind.

Shortly after his arrival in the United States, Jones Day agreed to represent W at the request of Human Rights First and began the asylum petition process. On September 8, 2003, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") granted W's asylum application based on his past torture and legitimate fear of future persecution. Within days, the Jones Day team began the process of petitioning for derivative asylum status for W's wife and eight children. After 18 months of ongoing efforts to overcome obstacles relating to the derivative applications, USCIS granted the applications of W's wife and only two of his children. W's six remaining children required additional efforts. Finally, on July 15, 2005, after filing supplemental briefs and evidence in support of the remaining children's applications, the remaining members of W's family were granted asylum.

At that point, USCIS transferred W's family's files to the State Department for the issuance of the necessary travel documents for W's family to travel to the United States. In what has become standard practice, the United States Consular in Monrovia, Liberia did not simply issue the requested travel documents. Instead, they questioned whether W's children were in fact his, a determination that had already been made by USCIS. Over the next two years, Jones Day fought to satisfy the Consular's demands as they effectively readjudicated W's case, in the process overcoming numerous obstacles and bypassing several apparent dead ends. This effort required inquiries from two United States Senators and the submission of additional evidence including various affidavits, multiple medical examinations, and DNA tests to prove W's paternity. Finally, at Dulles International Airport on August 27, 2007, more than four and a half years after W fled Liberia, a long-awaited and tearful reunion between W and his wife and children took place.