Trial Monitoring: Gibril Massaquoi’s appeal proceedings

Gibril Massaquoi, former Lieutenant-Colonel and spokesman of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was tried before the District Court of Tampere, Finland, from February 3, 2021 to January 2022. Throughout the year, hearings were held in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Finland. On April 29, 2022, the District Court dismissed all charges, and found that there was reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offences he was charged with. After that, the Prosecution appealed the Court’s decision. The appeal proceedings will begin on January 10 2023, at the Turku Court of Appeal, Finland, and are expected to last until June. The Court will relocate to Liberia to hear witnesses.

The complete trial monitoring will be published after the appeal.

Trial monitoring of the first instance proceedings can be found here.  

Art by JP Kalonji.

Voiceover by: Dounard Bondo

Dounard is a Liberia-based journalist who usually covers stories on human rights, development and politics. He has reported on post-war justice in Liberia for many outlets. Dounard has a Bsc in International law and diplomacy and a masters in international maritime law. Additionally, he is currently a senior student at the Louis Arthur Grimes school of law where he is pursuing an LLB.

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The proceedings are being held in French; therefore, French is the original language of this monitoring. As making legal information accessible is a part of Civitas Maxima’s mission, English translations made with Deepl will be available. Hence, issues with the English translation may apply.

The names of certain witnesses and civil parties are withheld for privacy and security reasons.

The monitoring is not an official court transcript.

[01/10/2023] Day One

Recap Day One: The appeal proceedings begin
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The President explained the history of the proceedings and the main points of the District Court’s judgment and the parties’ submissions. In April 2022, The District Court found that there was reasonable doubt that Gibril Massaquoi had committed the crimes he was accused of, and the Prosecutors later appealed this judgment.

Next, both parties took the floor for their opening statements. The Prosecution began by describing Liberia’s Second Civil War, and presented the way that the Finnish authorities had begun their investigation and gathered information on the crimes in question. They then described to the Court how the Tampere Court had misunderstood the evidence and it had to be rectified.

The Defense focused on a chronological presentation of Gibril Massaquoi’s journey with the RUF. It also presented its views about the witnesses’ statements presented by the prosecution, and how, according to the defense, the Finnish investigation was biased.

After the opening statements, the Court moved on to discuss the written evidence presented by the Prosecution for the rest of the session.

[01/12/2023] Day Two

Recap Day Two: Written Evidence: Defense
Listen to the recap

The second day was dedicated to the presentation of the Defense’s written evidence. Most of it had already been submitted during the first instance proceedings, but new additions and modifications were made.

The Defense described the context of both the Sierra Leonean and Liberian civil wars, as well as Gibril Massaquoi’s role in the RUF. In particular, it focused on Massaquoi’s location: through UN reports and newspapers, the Defense attempted to establish that between 1999 and 2001 – when the alleged crimes were committed – Massaquoi had been traveling, and despite a few trips in Liberia, the Defense stated that he had rarely been in the country. The Prosecution challenged some of the evidence presented.

[01/13/2023] Day Three

Recap Day Three: Conclusion of written evidence
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The third day was dedicated to the period of 2002 to 2003 when some of the alleged crimes were committed.

The Defense presented documents related to Gibril Massaquoi’s cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It also criticized how the Finnish police handled the collection of witnesses’ statements before and after the trial. According to the Defense, the Finnish police and its Liberian partner did not deal with the witnesses correctly and did not report certain issues in a timely manner.

Finally, the Defense discussed how some evidence had been fabricated against the client: in particular, it referred to a picture which had evidently been manipulated to incriminate Mr Massaquoi.

The hearings will start again on Monday January 16.

[01/17/2023] Day Four

Recap Day Four: Expert statements
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The first day of the second week of the trial was dedicated to statements of expert witnesses. Most of the statements discussed were those that had previously been examined during the first instance proceedings.

The court first read an expert testimony that dealt with the historical context of the Second Liberian Civil War. The remaining two testimonies focused on forensic psychology. One of the experts had been consulted during the first instance proceedings, whilst the other had been more recently requested by the Prosecution for the current proceedings. The findings of the two expert opinions go against eachother; for this reason, each party called for both experts to be heard at trial.

[01/18/2023] Day Five

Recap Day Five: Gibril Massaquoi is heard
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Day two of the second week of trial marked the first day of the hearing of the accused, Gibril Massaquoi.

The Defense was invited to question Massaquoi first. Its questioning followed a similar approach as that previously before the District Court. Massaquoi was first asked about his personal background and the origins of his membership in the RUF. He then went on to explain his activities in the RUF, first as a regular member, and later as the movement’s spokesman and assistant to its leader, Foday Sankoh.

As the acts allegedly took place between 1999 and 2003, this time period was covered extensively throughout Massaquoi’s hearing. He was asked about different trips that he took to Liberia and other neighboring countries as the head of the RUF external delegation, as well as his activities in Sierra Leone after the end of the Civil War and the arrests of former RUF members. Questions relating to the SCSL safe house, in which Massaquoi was located, also played a large role.

[01/19/2023] Day Six

Recap Day Six: The prosecution questions Gibril Massaquoi
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On the second day of the defendant’s hearing, it was the Prosecution’s turn to question Massaquoi. As a basic chronology of events had been mapped out the previous day by the Defence, the Prosecution focused a lot on the statements that Massaquoi that had given to his defence lawyers.

The Prosecutors sought to establish contradictions between these recent statements, and those that he gave earlier in 2002 and 2003 to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In addition, these were contrasted to a version of events that Massaquoi described in the draft of his book, where he recounts a series of events occurring in both Sierra Leone and Liberia.

For example, the Prosecution questioned Massaquoi on the end of his involvement with RUF armed activities, his role in the RUF diamond trade, and the role of Charles Taylor during the Sierra Leone peace process. The details of the RUF external delegation and its travels to Liberia and other countries were also discussed at length.

In addition to these questions, the Court also watched a videotape of a statement of a witness who had since passed away. The last day of the second week, on Friday 20th , will mark the beginning of witness statements given in Finland, before the Court heads to Monrovia.

[01/20/2023] Day Seven

Recap Day Seven: First witnesses heard
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The final day of the January proceedings in Turku, Finland marked the beginning of witness statements.

The Court first heard an expert witness, who had provided two expert testimonies on the historical context of the Second Liberian Civil War during the District Court proceedings. After, it heard a Finnish policeman, who had been part of the investigation since the very beginning in 2018. This witness was asked about the details of the investigation in Liberia and the role of the GJRP and its employees. The Defense has strongly criticized the police investigation in this regard.

After these witness statements, the Court watched another videotape of a statement given to the District Court by a witness who had since passed away. On Monday 23, a similar videotape will also be watched, with the parties viewing it remotely online and the while the judges remain present in Turku.

The following week, the Court and the Parties will depart for Monrovia, Liberia for two months of witness statements. The first session in Monrovia is scheduled to begin on Monday, February 6.

[02/07/2023] Day Eight

Recap Day Eight: The proceedings begin in Monrovia
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The eighth day of the trial marked the beginning of the appeal proceedings in Monrovia, Liberia. The previous week, the Appeals Court and the parties had visited some locations relevant for the case in Lofa County and Monrovia.

The day was supposed to be dedicated to a particular witness statement, but the witness had informed the Court that they were not able to come to Monrovia to testify. This led to a discussion between the Court and the parties on how to deal with such situations in the future. They discussed whether to view a videotape of the statement previously given by this witness during the District Court phase in February 2021. The Court decided that in this case, there was no obstacle under Finnish law to examine this particular witness statement from the videotape recorded during their previous testimony.

The rest of the day was used to view the videotape in question.