Liberian history in the making: groundbreaking decision regarding Gibril Massaquoi’s trial

An international war crimes trial has commenced in Finland today, in the Pirkanmaa District Court, concerning atrocity crimes allegedly committed and incited by Gibril Massaquoi in far-away Liberia. Unlike most war crimes trials in front of domestic courts, which are de-facto very distant from the time and place of the underlying events, the Finnish court will do something with few precedents in legal history. As was announced only a few days ago, a portion of the trial itself, while conducted under Finnish law, will be held for several weeks in Liberia – where the crimes allegedly occurred – and neighbouring Sierra Leone.
 
Massaquoi was arrested in Finland, where he has resided since 2008. He was arrested after a formal investigation by the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), after Civitas Maxima and the GJRP provided them with information regarding his alleged involvement in mass atrocities in Liberia. He is charged with murder of civilians and hors de combat, aggravated war crimes, and aggravated crimes against humanity, which he allegedly committed and incited in 1999-2003, during Liberia’s second Civil War.
 
Civitas Maxima firmly believes that justice should be pursued in the country where the crimes occurred, whenever possible. It is for this reason that we applaud the cooperation between the Finnish, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean authorities to conduct hearings in the affected countries, where the victims and witnesses reside. This trial will be a groundbreaking step towards justice for the many victims of Liberia’s Civil Wars, as it will be the first time that a war crimes trial is conducted on Liberian soil.  
 
It will also be one of the first times that various countries, absent a special international or regional court, have cooperated in this way – allowing one country’s judicial proceedings to occur in another country where the crimes were committed. This potentially sets a monumental precedent in the ongoing struggle for accountability for the world’s worst atrocities crimes.
 
Universal Jurisdiction provides an extraordinary tool for States to extend their criminal jurisdiction to support victims elsewhere, when the seriousness of the alleged crimes warrants it. It is a pivotal enforcement avenue of international criminal law, even more so when part of the proceedings can take place in the country where the crimes happened”, stated renowned Beninese human rights lawyer, Roland Adjovi, also a member of Civitas Maxima’s Executive Board. Mr. Adjovi stressed the importance of Liberian and Sierra Leonean authorities’ cooperating with the Finnish to ensure that the safety and security of the victims and witnesses is guaranteed during the hearings in their countries: “Effective protection must be guaranteed by those States as a sign of their willingness to contribute to the fight against impunity”.
 
Throughout the trial, in coordination with Washington University, The Hague University, and legal professionals in Helsinki, Monrovia, and Freetown, Civitas Maxima will publish daily legal monitoring for audiences around the world to follow the case. Civitas Maxima will also publish on its blog regular contributions from scholars, practitioners, and other experts and stakeholders to give perspectives on this cutting-edge effort for justice.

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