Pending appeal against the acquittal of a Sierra Leonean alleged former rebel commander. The Massaquoi trial was the first of its kind, where a national court travelled to hold the trial in the affected countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is a unique example of cooperation between a prosecuting state and the country of commission of the crimes.
Type of jurisdiction
Gibril Massaquoi, Sierra Leonean national, former Lieutenant- Colonel of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), spokesperson and assistant to the group’s founder, Foday Sankoh
Country of residence of suspect
Acquittal over charges of aggravated war crimes and aggravated crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture, recruitment and use of child soldiers and violations of human rights in a state of emergency
Acquitted of all charges; awaiting appeal (2023)
Massaquoi was a former Lieutenant- Colonel of the RUF and a spokesperson and assistant to the group’s founder, Foday Sankoh. The RUF was a Sierra Leonean rebelgroupwhichhadclosetiesto former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during the Sierra Leonean civil war (1991-2002). The RUF invaded Sierra Leone in March 1999, with support from the NPFL, in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. According to the Finnish prosecution authorities, Massaquoi committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia between 1999 and 2003, including homicide, sexual violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
In 2002, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was established. Massaquoi offered to collaborate and became a top informer for the prosecution. In 2009 and 2012 respectively, the SCSL convicted three former senior leaders of the RUF and Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone. Massaquoi was not charged with any crimes by the SCSL.
As part of their regular investigation and documentation efforts, Geneva- based NGO Civitas Maxima and its Liberian sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), found evidence that Massaquoi had allegedly committed, overseen and ordered international crimes in Liberia.
Based on indications that he was present in Finland, Civitas Maxima and the GJRP submitted information to the authorities in Finland in 2018 regarding Massaquoi’s alleged involvement in mass atrocities in Liberia. Following a preliminary investigation, Finland’s prosecutor general issued an order to proceed with the case.
Finnish police investigators visited Liberia on several occasions beginning in early 2019 to hear witnesses in cooperation with Liberian authorities.
On 10 March 2020, Massaquoi was arrested by Finnish police in Tampere, Finland on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders, sexual violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
On 13 January 2021, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation’s pre-trial investigation on Massaquoi concluded and the case was officially handed over to the prosecutor.
On 3 February 2021, the trial against Massaquoi began in Finland. Throughout the year, hearings were held in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Finland. The proceedings lasted 62 days, and over 100 witnesses were heard.
Developments in 2022
The trial ended in January 2022 and Massaquoi was released from custody on 16 February 2022, awaiting judgment.
On 29 April 2022, the District Court dismissed all charges and found that there was reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offences with which he was charged.
In May 2022, the prosecutor filed an 80-page appeal. The Court of Appeal has granted the prosecutor leave to appeal, and the appeal hearing will take place in 2023.