Trial of Sierra Leonean Suspected of War Crimes in Liberia Begins Tomorrow in Finland

Gibirl Massaquoi (R) drinks palm wine in the early 2000s

TAMPERE, Finland – The trial of Gibril Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean man accused of committing war crimes in Liberia, will start Wednesday, the Pirkanmaa District Court in the Finnish city of Tampere has said.

Report by Saila Huusko, with New Narratives

Finnish State Prosecutor Tom Laitinen detailed the charges against Massaquoi at a preparatory session on Monday (when the court announces its schedules and plan for translation). Among his charges are murder of civilians, including children and other vulnerable individuals, and rape.

Massaquoi is accused of committing the acts in multiple locations in Liberia, including Lofa County, between January 7, 1999 and March 9, 2003, according to the 20-page indictment.

The main trial will commence on Wednesday. Massaquoi, who is currently held in pretrial detention in Finland, is expected to appear. After two weeks of the proceedings in Finland, the case is expected to be moved to Liberia, the country’s first war crimes trial. He will remain in Finland while the trial is ongoing in Monrovia and make a virtual appearance.

Prosecutors are calling for a life sentence. 

In the preliminary response to the charges delivered to the court by his defense, Massaquoi denies all charges, arguing that he was not even in Liberia after June 2001.

Massaquoi, 51, moved to Finland over a decade ago after acting as a key informer for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). As a top figure within the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Massaquoi was well-placed to provide information on the group’s inner workings. 

In 2018, an investigation into his alleged crimes was launched by Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). He was arrested in March last year, with charges delivered on January 25. NBI said it interviewed several witnesses in Liberia, who it says will testify in the case.

Finnish state prosecutor Tom Laitinen (left) and Massaquoi’s defense lawyer Kaarle Gummerus outside the courtroom on Monday. FrontPage Africa/Saila Huusko

As signatory to international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions, Finland is obligated to investigate and prosecute international crimes, even if they did not take place on its soil, Laitinen said.

Finland takes its obligations to international law seriously. The case against Massaquoi is exceptional in Finland, but not the only one of its kind. Two Iraqi brothers recently stood trial for war crimes and other offenses allegedly committed in Iraq. They were cleared of charges due to insufficient evidence. Kaarle Gummerus, Massaquoi’s lead lawyer, defended one of the brothers in that trial.

Massaquoi is the third person who is not a Liberian to be prosecuted in over the country’s civil war, which killed an estimated 250,000 and displaced a million. The first was Chuckie Taylor, the American son of former President Charles Taylor, who is serving a 97-year prison for torture in Liberia. And the other is Guus Kowenhoven, a Dutch timber dealer who was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes in the West African nation in 2017. 

A verdict in Massaquoi’s case is expected later this year. 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project