Town Where Gibril Massaquoi ‘Buried Man Alive’ Wants him Imprisoned

A northern Liberian town in Lofa County where Gibril Massaquoi is alleged to have committed atrocities in1993. New Narratives/Varney Kamara

KPAKAMAI, Lofa County – People of Kpakamai in Lofa County accuse Gibril Massaquoi of a string of crimes in the 1993, and they say they hope his war crimes trial ends with a guilty verdict to bring justice to alleged victims there.

By Varney Kamara, with New Narratives

“I want him (Massaquoi) to face justice and if possible go to jail,” said one woman who wailed as she recalled the day in 1993 when, she said, Massaquoi ordered her husband was buried alive in 1993.

“Let him know that what he did was wrong.”

The woman whose name is being withheld because of credible fear of reprisals, said Massaquoi and other fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which collaborated with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), had accused her husband of conniving with its rival faction, the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO). She said he was stripped, tied and buried alive in a 10-foot grave underneath a cotton tree, which still stands in the town today. Other townspeople corroborated her story to Front Page Africa.

“While burying him alive, they asked me to say my last words to Papa,” the woman weeped.  “I said to Papa ‘When you go, please do not come back for me,’ and he replied me and said ‘Yes, they are killing me for something I did not do, but that’s their will.’ I could not eat for three days and three nights after this incident.”  She and other civilians later fled the town and sought refuge in Lawalazu, a town at the Guinea border. 

Many other civilians were allegedly murdered in Kpakamai under Massquoi’s orders in a wrenching period of violence that terrorized the area, according to surviving victims. Townspeople speak of other alleged crimes, including rape and torture.

Despite the 28-year period since the crimes happened, people said they were certain about who committed the crimes.

“The guys who did these things to us came from Sierra Leone. They called themselves names such as ‘Cow Poopoo,’ ‘Bush Shaking,’ ‘Big Man Trousers,’ ‘Angel Gabriel,’ ‘Black Jesus,’ and so on,” Sonnie Garwu, 27, told Frontpage Africa through a Lorma interpreter. Witnesses in the Finnish war crimes trial have repeatedly said that “Angel Gabriel” was Massaquoi’s alias.

“They gave me [urine] to drink,” said Benedict Esiah, who was the town chief when the RUF occupied the village. He pointed at a grave he said was one of the RUF rebels. “I want for him to go to jail for lifetime.”

Massaquoi, 51, faces charges of murder, aggravated rape, aggravated war crimes and an aggravated criminal case of human rights violations in exceptional circumstances. However, none of those alleged crimes relates to Kpakpamai. He is accused of committing those crimes in other parts of Lofa and in Monrovia between 2001 and 2002. He denies the charges, and says he was not in Liberia at that time. 

Massaquoi was arrested in March last year and remanded by Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Tampere in southern Finland, where he lived. The Finns had been investigating Massaquoi since 2018, interviewing witnesses also in Sierra Leone and Guinea.  His arrest was made possible through a collaboration between Civitas Maxima, a Swiss-based victims group and its Liberian-based counterpart, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which had first documented his alleged crimes and presented them to Finnish authorities.  His trial began in Finland on February 1 and moved to Liberia on 14 days later.  His trial will return to Finland in May after some proceedings in Sierra Leone, and the case is scheduled for judgement later this year.

The former RUF commander faces a life sentence. 

Massayan Kollie, alias “Butter Rice”, a former combatant of the NPFL identifies the grave where a woman claimed her husband was buried alive in 1993. New Narratives/Varney Kamara

Wakeup Call

RUF fighters began fighting in Liberia as early as 1991, when the faction was founded with the help of Charles Taylor, then leader of the NPFL. Both factions had a common enemy in the Sierra Leonean government, which supported ULIMO at the time. ULIMO fought some of its fiercest battles against the RUF in Sierra Leone and Lofa County in the 1990s. ULIMO had been established in Sierra Leone in May 1991 by Mandingo refugees and escaped soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Witnesses in the Alieu Kosiah trial have also spoken about fighting between ULIMO and the RUF in that area up to 1993. An estimated 250,000 people were killed in the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003). Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found RUF committed 86 of all wartime human rights violations it heard, more than groups such as the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU) and the Special Security Unit and Black Beret.

Despite the TRC’s recommendation for the setting up of war crimes court for the country, there is still no court more than 10 years later. Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence but for war crimes he committed in Sierra Leone, while Foday Sankoh, the leader of RUF, died in 2003 before he could stand trial. Liberian and non-Liberians in Europe and America have been charged and convicted in connection to the country’s bloody armed conflict.

But with some of Massaquoi’s trial now taking place on Liberian soil campaigners are hoping it will boost support for a war crimes trial for Liberia.  

“Extending Massaquoi’s trial to Liberia sends out a signal of deterrence and a wakeup call for the government of Liberia,” said Adama Dempster of the Independent Human Rights Investigators, a pro-war crimes court group in Monrovia. “I believe it would improve the performance of our local judges and raise the standard for the Liberian justice system as some Liberian legal practitioners would have the opportunity to see how the international justice system works.”

“It’s a great news for justice in this country,” said Fayah Williams, deputy director of GJRP. “This is a wakeup call for the government to step up its efforts in establishing an international justice system that would trial people who committed crime against humanity.”

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of our West Africa Justice Reporting Project. The funder had no say in the story’s content.