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Case against Sierra Leone national suspected of murder, war crimes heads to Finnish court

The suspect has lived in Finland for 10 years and faces charges for crimes allegedly carried out two decades ago.

Epäilty sotarikosoikeudessa
The suspect at a Pirkanmaa District Court remand hearing in March 2020, file photo. Image: Antti Palomaa / Yle

The state prosecutor has filed charges against a Sierra Leone national who resides in Finland and is suspected of committing war crimes during Liberia's second civil war in 1999-2003.

The suspect, a Tampere resident who has lived in Finland for more than 10 years, was ordered to be held in remand custody by Pirkanmaa District Court on 12 March 2020.

The 51-year-old Sierra Leonean is suspected of having committed murders, aggravated war crimes and aggravated human rights violations against civilians during a state of emergency, according to a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) press release.

The suspect has denied the charges.

According to State Prosecutor Tom Laitinen, the suspected violations were serious, partly international crimes, that violated internationally-recognised rules of combat as well as human rights laws.

The head of investigation, NBI detective superintendent Thomas Elfgren, said the investigation was extensive and received a good deal of international cooperation.

"[The] criminal investigation has been conducted mainly in Liberia and partly in Sierra Leone, and witnesses and victims have been interviewed during trips to these two countries. Cooperation has been smooth both in Finland and between our international partners," Elfgren said in the statement.

According to the NBI, the deadline for the prosecution to file charges was on Monday 25 January 2021. Pirkanmaa District Court is scheduled to hear the case later.

Finland obliged to investigate, prosecute

Due to international agreements and regulations, Finland is obliged to investigate such suspected crimes and--if needed--prosecute their perpetrators even though the violations may have been committed beyond the country's borders.

At the time of the suspect's arrest last spring, the NBI said the individual held a leading position in the Revolutionary United Front, a Sierra Leonean rebel force that had operations in Liberia.

"Exceptionally, the suspected serious crimes against life and health, personal liberty and physical integrity include homicide and sexual violence as well as recruitment and deployment of child soldiers," Elfgren stated at the time.

The NBI's criminal investigation into the case began in the autumn of 2018, following receipt of a prosecution order from the Prosecutor General.

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