Week in Review – Week 1

The first week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 5 February 2021, after three days of public hearings in Tampere, Finland. For more context about the case, please see this overview.

Mr. Massaquoi stands charged with murder, aggravated rape, war crimes, and human rights violations, which are alleged to have occurred in Liberia during the Second Liberian Civil War (1999 to 2003). The Prosecution explained that the alleged acts constitute serious violations of international law that the State of Finland is obliged to prosecute, even if these crimes did not occur on Finnish soil. The Prosecution claimed that Mr. Massaquoi is responsible for the various charged acts as a direct perpetrator and as a superior under the doctrine of command responsibility, due to his senior position in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Mr. Massaquoi does not deny that the alleged acts occurred. However, he denies his responsibility for each of the charges, stating that he was not in Liberia at the relevant times. 

The trial will move to West Africa at a later date to allow the Court to conduct a judicial examination of the crime sites in Liberia, and to hear witnesses in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

As is standard practice in Finnish criminal hearings, both the Defense and Prosecution began by presenting the charges and relevant documentary evidence. The judicial panel, chaired by District Judge Paiho, heard evidence from the Prosecution, led by State Prosecutor Mr. Tom Laitinen, and Mr. Massaquoi’s defense team, Mr. Kaarle Gummerus and Ms. Paula Sallinen.

Charges

On 3 February, 2021 (Day 1), the Prosecution charged Mr. Massaquoi with four categories of crimes. As Finnish law has been amended since 2003, the following crimes were charged according to the law in effect at the time of the alleged acts:

  • Murder (three counts) committed in Yandehun and Kamahatun Hassala in Lofa County, and in Monrovia, Republic of Liberia.
    • These were charged under Chapter 21, §§ 1(1) and 2(1)(1)-(2) of the Criminal Code of Finland.
  • Aggravated Rape (two counts) in Kamatahun Hassala and Foya in Lofa County, Republic of Liberia.
    • These were charged under Chapter 21, §§ 1(1) and 2(1)(1)-(2) of the Criminal Code of Finland.
  • Aggravated War Crimes (twelve counts) in Kamatahun Hassala, Yandehun, and Foya in Lofa County, Klay (presumably in Bomi County), in Monrovia, and surrounding areas in the Republic of Liberia:
    • Murder as a war crime (three counts);
    • Rape as a war crime (three counts);
    • Forced labor as a war crime (one count);
    • The use of a child soldier as a war crime (one count);
    • Maltreatment and mutilation of human remains as a war crime (one count);
    • Torture as a war crime (one count);
    • Violence to life, health, physical and mental well-being, including cruel treatment (two counts).
    • These war crimes were charged under Chapter 11, §§ 1(1) ¶3 and 5(1) of the Criminal Code of Finland in effect at the time, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the Second Additional Protocol of 1977.
  • Aggravated Violation of Human Rights in a State of Emergency (twelve counts) in Kamatahun Hassala and Yandehun in Lofa County, in Monrovia, and surrounding areas in the Republic of Liberia.
    • Each of the charges enumerated above were also charged as aggravated violations of human rights in a state of emergency.
    • They were charged under Chapter 11, §§ 4(1) and 5(1) of the Criminal Code of Finland in effect at the time, The Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the Second Additional Protocol of 1977.

The Prosecution seeks a life sentence for Mr. Massaquoi.

Theory of the Prosecution

The Prosecution introduced its case on 4 February 2021 (Day 2) by orienting the Court to the locations detailed in the Application of Summons (indictment) and presenting maps and photographs of the crime sites. It also provided the Court with the legal basis for the charges. 

The Prosecution noted that this case faces many challenges, such as: the length of time between the commission of the crimes and the present prosecution; cultural and societal differences; long-lasting traumatizing experiences; and the clear need to review credibility on an individual level. The Prosecution asked the Court to evaluate the evidence as a whole. 

The Prosecution presented its written evidence, including:

  • Records of 20 witnesses to the charged crimes, discovered by the Prosecution through various channels and specifically without the assistance of Civitas Maxima;
  • Portions of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, including a list of perpetrators of crimes which, though not mentioning Mr. Massaquoi specifically, did not reference members of the RUF generally, arguably because the interviewing form used with witnesses did not include the RUF among possible perpetrators;
  • A report written by Mr. Massaquoi (“The Secret Behind the Gun”), in which he admitted having previously deceived interviewers as to his actual location; and
  • Notes written by Mr. Massaquoi, found in a prison by a janitor, allegedly instructing key Defense witnesses, including his ex-wife, on how to testify in his case.

Theory of the Defense

As noted above, Mr. Massaquoi denied all charges, countering that he was not in Liberia at the time of the alleged crimes. To support this argument, the Defense challenged the credibility of the Prosecution’s witnesses, noted that the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports did not mention “Gibril Massaquoi” in its findings of responsibility for violence, and offered numerous documents to demonstrate Mr. Massaquoi’s absence from Liberia during the alleged events. The Defense emphasized that the severity of the charges necessitated careful review of the evidence, noting that the Prosecution would require very strong evidence to meet the burden of proof, a task made more difficult due to the long period of time between the events and the Finnish investigation. 

The Defense then introduced its evidence, including:

  • Portions of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and its appendices to highlight the absence of the name “Gibril Massaquoi”;
  • News articles, press releases, letters, and even website metadata, indicating Mr. Massaquoi’s absence from Liberia during the time period in question;
  • Photographs and video clips featuring Mr. Massaquoi, for identification purposes in witness interviews.

Summary of Emerging Themes

In the first week of hearings, a few overarching themes emerged. 

One theme concerned the sufficiency of evidence placing Mr. Massaquoi in Liberia at the time of the alleged acts. Mr. Massaquoi claimed he was not in Liberia at the relevant times and has denied responsibility for the charged crimes based on this claim. The Defense noted that it is therefore up to the Prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Massaquoi was present at the crime sites for the acts charged against him as a direct perpetrator, and that he exercised sufficient authority as a commander of the RUF to be held liable for the actions of other RUF members under the doctrine of command responsibility. 

A second theme that emerged from the Defense relates to the legitimacy of the case against Mr. Massaquoi, as well as the credibility of witnesses for the Prosecution who were identified by two NGOs: the Swiss group, Civitas Maxima, and the Liberian group, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). The Prosecution responded by explaining its plan to call witnesses who were not presented by these NGOs.

For its part, the Prosecution seeded concern about the credibility of Mr. Massaquoi, noting both his motivation and ability to misrepresent his location at key times, as well as the reliability of several pieces of the Defense’s documentary evidence.

These themes are expected to reappear throughout the narrative of the trial.

The trial is scheduled to continue next week in Finland on Monday, 8 February 2021, at 10:00 A.M local time.

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