PortraitThanks to his NGO Civitas Maxima, this Swiss lawyer has been fighting for years so that we do not forget the victims of civil wars in West Africa, and so that the culprits, refugees abroad, return accounts.
In this Geneva tea room, his long arms come alive over the course of the meeting, gradually cross the table, stretch towards his person opposite until touching his arm and tapping his finger on his pad. -notes. Alain Werner has the art of explaining, of insisting, of hammering, completely devoured by his cause, obsessed with the passing of time, erasing memories and carrying away memories. This is why this 49-year-old lawyer, founder, in 2012, of the small Swiss NGO Civitas Maxima, is trying to collect evidence of the atrocities perpetrated in two West African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in the end of the 1990s, against a backdrop of civil war.
He knows it, only this fussy and arduous work will allow the victims to seek justice and the courts to try the accused. Eight trophies already appear on his hunting board, torn off by stubbornness. Eight proceedings opened in the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland and even France, where the trial of a former Liberian rebel is due to open this year. “We will file new complaints between 2022 and 2025”, promises the lawyer. His Parisian colleague William Bourdon appreciates as a connoisseur: “Haute couture work. “
The offspring of an old Geneva family, the young Werner wanted to become a journalist. Finally, he opted for law, a way of inscribing himself in the paternal line – a grandfather judge, a father specializing in international arbitration. Alain, himself, will become a lawyer, like his “Hero”, the penalists having defended his beloved father-in-law, a banker crossed behind bars by his mother, a prison visitor. “I had the chance to meet people who guided me”, he confides modestly.
After his license, the student takes off for two years. Direction London, where he serves breakfast in luxury hotels, then Australia and Asia, to Papua New Guinea. “The return to law and to Geneva, in 1999, was quite complicated”, he said euphemistically. After his two years of professional internship, he had to do it three times to get his diploma, while carrying out judicial observation missions in Tunisia with the Swiss League of Human Rights.
The fragility of the evidence
In 2002, he enrolled at Columbia University in New York, “To acquire the essential Anglo-Saxon varnish”. One of his teachers is Reed Brody, aka the “Dictator Hunter”. This lawyer, spokesperson for the NGO Human Rights Watch, is a figure in the fight against impunity for “warlords”. Alain Werner dreams of following suit. A year later, his American master’s degree in his pocket, he therefore applied to the courts for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Disappointment: we do not even answer him. “I was distressed, I had no more money, and I did not want to return to Geneva”, he says.
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Alain Werner, “hunter” of African war criminals