The trial of a suspected warlord accused of atrocities during Liberia’s civil war has started in Finland.
Prosecutors say Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi, from Sierra Leone, was a senior member of a rebel group that fought in Liberia from 1999 to 2003. He is accused of killing civilians and soldiers who had just been disarmed, rape, and recruiting child soldiers.
He denies the charges and says he was taking part in peace talks at the time of the alleged crimes. Some 250,000 people were killed in the Liberian conflict, which was intertwined with the war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Who is Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi?
The 51-year-old was a commander and a spokesperson for the notorious Sierra Leone rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which also fought in Liberia. The RUF was known for atrocities such as hacking off the limbs of civilians, as well as murder and rape.
He gave evidence to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone set up to investigate war crimes committed in that conflict. He was relocated to Finland in 2008 as part of a witness protection program, which provided immunity for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, but not Liberia. In March, he was arrested in the Finish town of Tampere, where he is standing trial.
What is he accused of doing?
He is accused of murder, aggravated war crimes, and aggravated crimes against humanity. The AFP news agency reports it has seen court documents that contend he held an “extremely senior and influential position” in the RUF, one of the main militias fighting alongside President Charles Taylor’s NPFL forces in Liberia.
According to witnesses, he ordered civilians, including children, to be locked inside two buildings, which were then set on fire. In another alleged atrocity, Prosecutor Tom Laitinen says some of his victims’ bodies were cut up and “made into food which Massaquoi also ate”. Prosecutors have demanded a life sentence, which, in Finland tends to mean 14 years imprisonment, reports AFP.
Why is this case significant?
The court will move to Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone in the next few weeks, reports AFP. It will do this to hear testimony from up to 80 witnesses and visit sites where the atrocities are alleged to have been carried out under Mr. Massaquoi’s orders. This makes it the first such case to be partly held on the Liberian soil, although Mr. Massaquoi will remain in Finland.
Who else has been prosecuted after Liberia’s civil war?
Former Liberian President Taylor was convicted by an international criminal court in 2012 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but that was in connection with the conflict in Sierra Leone. He is serving his 50-year sentence in a prison in the UK. His son “Chuckie” Taylor was sentenced to 97 years in prison in a US federal court in 2009 for torturing and killing people while he was the head of Liberia’s anti-terrorist services.
Ex-warlord Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh has been jailed for 30 years in the US for lying about his past as a leader of a force that carried out multiple murders and acts of cannibalism.