MONROVIA – A Finnish Appeal Court has upheld a request by prosecutors to relitigate the acquittal by a district court of Gibril Massaquoi, the former Revolutionary United Front commander in Sierra Leone, of charges he committed war crimes in Liberia.
By Anthony Stephens, Senior New Narratives Justice Correspondent
In May the District Court in the Finnish city of Tampere found that prosecutors had failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Massaquoi, 52, committed the crimes of rape, ritual murder, torture, and recruitment of child soldiers during Liberia’s civil war between 1999-2003. The Court also found that many of the witnesses, including those who claimed to be ex-soldiers of former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s army, were unreliable, as they provided contradictory and inconsistent statements between the investigation and the trial. The ruling sent shockwaves through human rights advocates, who had hoped Massaquoi would be found guilty.
But barely three months after the ex-rebel leader’s acquittal, prosecutors have had their wish to appeal the decision granted. Chief Prosecutor Tom Laitinen said they are pleased by the decision.
“I’m grateful that we have a second chance to prove our case,” said Laitinen, by WhatsApp.
Massaquoi’s legal team declined to give details of their reaction.
“We are now focusing on the preparation of the case. We do not want to comment further on the matter,” said Kaarle Gummerus, lead lawyer by WhatsApp.
The Appeal Court has not announced when it will begin hearings though sources expect it to be soon. They said a return by the court to Liberia is likely. The court spent five months hearing witnesses in Liberia in 2021.
Laitinen expected a decision to be made soon. “We will know more on that in a about month,” he said.
“Zizar Marzah” may be a witness
Laitinen said he was unsure whether he would call former Massquoi ally Joseph Marzah, a fierce general with then-Liberian President Charles Taylor’s forces commonly known as “Zizar Marzah”, to testify.
“We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to call Marzah as a witness,” he said. “We are taking one step at a time.”
In an exclusive interview with FPA/New Narratives in May Marzah 64, said the court got it wrong when it acquitted Massaquoi.
“Gibril Massaquoi fully took part in war here,” Marzah said listing the Lofa towns he was with Massaquoi. “He passed through the towns of Zorzor, Fessibu and Vasala.”
Marzah said Massaquoi was assigned to him.“Where there was intense fighting, he joined us to fight. In 2001 and 2002, he was with us, and we battled LURD in Chicken Soup Factory, Double Bridge, ELWA and Shefflin.”
Marzah, who testified against Taylor in his trial for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, said he was also prepared to testify against Massaquoi. (Taylor was convicted and is serving a 50-year sentence in a UK prison.)
“If Gibril Massaquoi denies that he was with me, NPFL, I would like for us to sit face-to-face (in court) so that I can question him like the scenario between Taylor and I. I fear nothing.”
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of its West Africa Justice Reporting Project.