The Economic Community of West African States Community Court of Justice has acknowledged receipt of a complaint filed by Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus on behalf of his client, Mike T. James Jr., a young Liberian movie star who is claiming damages from the world body.
The ECOWAS Court said it received the complaint on March 12, 2013 through one Patrick Ajah, who is assigned at the court.
In his petition to the ECOWAS Court, Cllr. Cephus said the revised Protocols enjoin the court to rule on issues of human rights violations brought either by state parties on behalf of their citizens, or through complaints filed by individuals, irrespective of whether local remedies have or have not been exhausted.
He explained that these revised Protocols grant every victim of a human right violation within the ECOWAS Community the right to directly appeal to the court, irrespective of whether or not the case is subject to a national proceeding.
Cllr. Cephus said Liberia as a member of ECOWAS, is a forum state and therefore the ECOWAS Community Court as the judicial arm of all member states of ECOWAS, has original trial jurisdiction over all cases of human rights abuses committed by governments, corporations and international organizations operating in the region, consistent with the four principles law.
Mike T. James, Jr., a citizen of Liberia, who currently resides in the city of Philadelphia in the United State instituted a lawsuit against the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), for special damages, statutory damages, punitive damages for deception and violation of his human rights.
That Plaintiff says that in 1997, a Danish film production team hired by UNICEF through its Headquarters in New York, arrived in Liberia on a mission to produce a documentary film on Liberian child soldiers ostensibly as a means of creating awareness about the plight of war-affected children in Liberia for use as a fund-raising tool to persuade donors and potential donors to contribute funds to support UNICEF programs for children in Liberia.
With the active support and collaboration of the UNICEF Liberia Office, the team set about recruiting children from various schools and orphanages to act in the said film, with Plaintiff Mike T. James, Jr. who was then 13 years old, a budding movie star who had acted in two previous movies produced in Liberia, and a student of the St. Francis Catholic School in Gardnersville, a suburb of Monrovia, being selected to play the lead role in the said film.
According to the complaint, after nearly two months of training and rehearsals, during which the children actors were made to practice and perform various despicable acts, including torturing and killing people, eating human body parts, smoking, taking narcotic drugs and other illicit substances, as well as engaging in prostitution and other vices that were said by the UNICEF Agent to be the trade mark of rebel child soldiers, the recorded material was taken away for final production after the children actors were given paltry amounts ranging from US$100 to US$300 as a token of appreciation for their participation in the movie that was purported to be a charitable film.
Plaintiff James averred that contrary to assurances given him and the other children that this film was only intended for private viewing by donors and potential donors in Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world, it eventually emerged that the material had in fact been turned into a Hollywood-style action movie for global public sale and distribution, with copies of the movie landing in Liberia, other countries of Africa, and various other parts of the world where it was shown in cinemas, video clubs as well as private homes.
Plaintiff James further averred that as a result of this widespread public circulation of the film, he and other actors of the film were easily recognized and stigmatized as rebels, killers, cannibals and drug addicts, and prostitutes on account of the roles they had played in the said film.
According to him, this stigmatization was all the more devastating for him because he had not only been made to "kill" his own "brother" in the film, but had been persuaded by the producers to use his actual name (Mike) instead of a pseudonym in the film.
He said as a result of the intensity of the emotional stress heaped on him on account of the negative public reactions to the horrific actions portrayed in the film, which led to him being classified as "rebel", killer, etc, and in some instances took the form of verbal and physical abuses, he could no longer lead a normal life among his peers at school as well as in his community for which he decided to file a lawsuit against UNICEF.