Former RUF commander arrested in Finland over war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Liberia

On Tuesday, March 10, Gibril Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean national, was arrested in Tampere, Finland, by the Finnish police who suspect that he committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia between 1999 and 2003. The crimes he allegedly committed include homicide, sexual violence, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Gibril Massaquoi was in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) inner circle during the Sierra Leonean Civil War – a Lieutenant-Colonel and spokesman of the rebel group – as well as an assistant to the group’s founder, Foday Sankoh.

In 2005, Massaquoi testified in open session before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in the case against members of Sierra Leone’s former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) – a rebel group that allied itself with the RUF rebels in the late 1990s.

As part of their regular investigation and documentation efforts, 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 during the Second Civil War.

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP submitted information regarding Massaquoi’s alleged involvement in mass atrocities in Liberia to the authorities in Finland, where he resides. Information about Massaquoi’s presence in Finland appeared online as early as 2010.

The Liberian authorities’ support of this case should be applauded, as they collaborated with the Finnish authorities during the investigation.

Civitas Maxima and the GJRP also congratulate the Finnish authorities on their diligence and commitment to this investigation.

Fayah Williams, Deputy Director of the GJRP said: “The latest news regarding the arrest of Mr Gibril Massaquoi in Finland is a huge step towards addressing the issue of accountability for past crimes committed during the two bloody civil wars in Liberia. It brings hope to all those who were victimized as a result of the civil wars. This arrest also indicates that justice does not discriminate based on nationality.

This is the 7th arrest of an alleged war criminal by authorities in 6 different countries on 2 continents that was prompted by information collected by Civitas Maxima and the GJRP – whose work has also contributed to two convictions of Liberian war criminals in the U.S. Nobody has ever been tried for war-related crimes on Liberian soil. The historic trial of Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) rebel group, is scheduled to commence on April 14 and conclude on April 30 2020 in Bellinzona, Switzerland. Two of Civitas Maxima’s lawyers directly represent 4 plaintiffs in the case. It will be the first trial for war crimes in front of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.

Historical Context


Liberia saw two consecutive civil wars (1989-1996 and 1999-2003), the first of which was initiated when Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) invaded the country in December 1989.


In March 1991, the fighting spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the NPFL, invaded Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the government. The civil war in Sierra Leone ended in 2002.


During the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. These conflicts were characterized by mass atrocities against the civilian population, including rampant sexual violence, mass killings, amputations and mutilations, slavery, torture, cannibalism, and the widespread use of child soldiers.


Despite some fallouts between the two groups, the NPFL and RUF stayed closely connected throughout the Sierra Leonean Civil War – exchanging arms and ammunition for diamonds – especially once Charles Taylor was elected President of Liberia in 1997. There was also a continuous exchange of fighters and leaders between the two rebel groups.


Charles 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.

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