Questions surround refugee claimant’s motivation

Posted by admin on Feb 8th, 2011

Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star, Feb. 08 2011

Is Cindor Reeves a hero who risked his life to get close to one of the world’s worst tyrants so he could collect intelligence and expose his crimes against humanity?

Or is he just an opportunist who became an informant to avoid prosecution by an international tribunal for his own involvement in the “weapons-for-diamonds” trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the late 1990s through 2001?

One thing is sure: Reeves is a failed refugee claimant in Canada. The Immigration and Refugee Board has prevented the Liberian from seeking asylum here because he “aided and abetted” the commission of crimes by dictator Charles Taylor, his brother-in-law, who ran Liberia from 1997 to 2003.

“This case raises a complex moral and legal issue,” said veteran refugee and immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman. “Should he be recognized for his contribution in bringing forward information to the international tribunal against the architect (of the crime)?”

“Whether he’s complicit or not is not a black and white issue. The legal system does not easily find a way to make that type of balance.”

While Reeves’ case is not precedent-setting as claims by asylum seekers involved in war crime can be rejected, legal experts said it is unusual because Reeves was placed under a witness protection program by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that Canada supported to try war criminals.

“On one hand, Canada is expanding all its effort to bring perpetrators around the world to justice, but on the other hand, it’s denying protection to a witness who testified against these crimes,” said Raoul Boulakia, former president of the Refugee Lawyers Association.

Alan White, chief of investigations for the Special Court for Sierra Leone from 2002 to 2005, was sympathetic.

“(Reeves) was an individual that was engaged in a very bad situation through no fault on his own and he tried to extract himself from it,” White told the Star’s Valerie Hauch.

“He put himself at great risk and his family at great risk with no guarantees that anything was not going to happen to him. . . . Not only that, he continued to help after that by exploiting the Al Qaeda connection as well as the Hezbollah connection in West Africa. And he just kept on.”

In a lengthy decision issued in January, the refugee board questioned Reeves’ motivation and concluded he “tailored his evidence” to prove his involvement with the regime was due to the need to expose Taylor, who is on trial before the international tribunal in The Hague.

“This credibility finding is a pivotal consideration with respect to Cindor Reeves’ request for (UN) Convention refugee status and the determination of exclusion,” the board said.

Reeves, who came to Greater Toronto with his wife and two children from Germany in 2006, has already applied for leave to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the refugee board decision.

Legal experts feel Reeves has a good case for a federal review which, if successful, will send the case back to the refugee board for a new hearing.

Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken said Canada’s amended Criminal Code allows criminal prosecution against those who commit war crimes overseas.

“From a human rights perspective, everybody should pay the price for their conduct and we should not exonerate criminals,” Aiken said. “But if we have enough evidence to prove a person’s involvement in a serious crime or an excludable act, the clear option is to prosecute him in Canada.”

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