Sierra Leonean Ex-Rebel Charged with Liberia War Crimes in Finland

Finland’s Office of the Prosecutor says a man from Sierra Leone has been charged with crimes against humanity, over his role in Liberia’s civil war two decades ago.

Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi is accused of killing civilians and soldiers who had just been disarmed when he was a senior member of a rebel group – the Revolutionary United Front – that fought in Liberia.

Prosecutors say the former soldier – who has been living in Finland for a decade – also committed rape and recruited child soldiers between 1999 and 2003.

Massaquoi’s indictment on charges of aggravated war crimes, aggravated crimes against humanity and murders – which he allegedly committed not in his home country, Sierra Leone, but in neighbouring Liberia, comes shortly after the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) concluded its pre-trial investigation of crimes allegedly committed by Massaquoi between 1999 and 2003.

He denies the charges.

“The suspected crimes have breached generally recognised laws and rules of conflict as well as harming the wider protection of humanity,” prosecutor Tom Laitinen said.

The charges carry a minimum sentence of eight years in jail but the court could also deliver a life term if he is convicted.

Massaquoi held leading positions within the RUF during the Sierra Leonean Civil War (1991-2002) – as Lieutenant-Colonel and spokesman of the rebel group.

The civil war in Sierra Leone was closely connected to the two civil wars in Liberia, as Charles Taylor (former President of Liberia and founder of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group) supported and worked with the RUF throughout the conflicts.

Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in 2012 for aiding, abetting, and planning the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone by the RUF.

Massaquoi was not prosecuted before the SCSL due to his collaboration as an insider witness.

In December 2020, the trial of former Liberian commander, Alieu Kosiah, who stands accused of rape, pillage, assassinations, and an act of cannibalism opens in Switzerland this week.

Kosiah also denied the charges.

He is accused of war crimes listed as “recruitment and use of a child soldier, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, attempted murder, murder (directly or by order), desecration of a corpse and rape”.

It is Switzerland’s first war crimes trial to be heard outside a military court.

Kosiah, 45, says he wants to clear his name. Some of the charges are attributed to troops under his command.

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