Liberia: Massaquoi to Testify Thursday as Defense Questions Timing of Alleged Events in Monrovia


TAMPERE, Finland – Prosecution and defense went head-to-head on the reliability of news references to Gibril Massaquoi’s whereabouts at the start the second week of the trial against him at the Pirkanmaa District Court in the Finnish city of Tampere.

By Saila Huusko, with New Narratives

Sierra Leonean Massaquoi is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and murder, allegedly committed in Liberia during the country’s second civil war in 1999-2003. The former spokesman and commander in the Sierra Leonean armed rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) relocated to Finland in 2008, where he is being tried based on universal jurisdiction.

One of the charges by Finnish State Prosecutor Tom Laitinen centers on murders that Massaquoi allegedly committed and oversaw in the Waterside market area in Monrovia, Liberia. On a number of occasions, the charges allege, Massaquoi and the soldiers under his command killed civilians who were seen stealing supplies from shops at the market. The probable timing of the alleged events is between January and December, 2002, according to the charges presented by Laitinen.  

Massaquoi’s defense challenged these accounts on Monday, saying that the timing does not align with news of events as they reportedly happened during the civil war. Pointing to articles from CNN and The Guardian, defense lawyer Kaarle Gummerus argued that the kind of turmoil, hunger, and looting described by prosecution happened in Monrovia during the summer of 2003. No such reports exist from the prior year, Gummerus said, even though reporting on events in the region was detailed.

Completing the presentation of nearly 80 different written pieces of evidence on Monday, Massaquoi’s defense team argues that their evidence shows Massaquoi was not in Liberia during the time that the alleged crimes took place.

Their list, spanning 1999 to 2003, includes links to news articles, UN reports, and communications with the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, allegedly proving Massaquoi’s presence at various locations around the continent and especially in Sierra Leone’s Makeni, the headquarters town of RUF.

Finnish State Prosecutor Tom Laitinen questioned the validity of the reports, saying that many of them do not provide definitive proof that Massaquoi took part in interviews and hearings in person – and that he could have been anywhere while speaking to the media and INGOs.

Laitinen also says that concluding anything in terms of timing, in Monrovia or elsewhere, is altogether too early. “Timing of the alleged events is one of the many things that we plan on solving by hearing the witnesses. Are the witnesses speaking of Gibril Massaquoi and if they are, where on the timeline will they place these events,” Laitinen explained in a later interview.

“Conclusions belong to the end of the trial,” he continued, reminding that statements given to the investigators from the National Board of Investigation (NBI) during its pre-trial work in Liberia do not solve the case. “The key here is what the witnesses tell the court at the trial itself.”

The court will hear from Massaquoi himself later this week, after which the court will move to Liberia and Sierra Leone to hear witnesses there.

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