Week in Review – Week 3

Introduction to Week 3’s hearings and witnesses

The third week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 25 February 2021, after three days of hearings. The trial moved from Tampere, Finland, to Monrovia, Liberia, to hear witnesses and allow the Finnish authorities to visit sites where Mr. Massaquoi allegedly committed violations of Finnish and international criminal law. The accused remained in Finland, and a videolink was provided to enable him to follow proceedings in real time. 

The three days of hearings this week focused on the testimony of six witnesses, whose identities were concealed. 

The witnesses were brought before the court to describe events occurring during an attack at the Waterside market in Monrovia, in which Gibril Massaquoi was allegedly present. They were heard in the following order and can be described as follows:

Trial Monitoring Day 7 (23 February 2021) 

  • Witness 1: Female; age unknown; was leaving Logan Town, Monrovia, to go to Vai Town on Bushrod Island; friend of [FNM-001], who was killed during the Waterside incident. 

Trial Monitoring Day 8 (24 February 2021)

  • Witness 2: Male; ~ 47 at the time of incident; went down to a  biscuit shop in search of food; brother of [FNM-006] and friend of [FNM-007], who were both killed during the Waterside incident. 
  • Witness 3: Male; age unknown; went down to Waterside in search of his wife, [FNM-008], who was killed during the Waterside incident.

Trial Monitoring Day 9 (25 February 2021)

  • Witness 4: Female; ~ 27 at the time of incident; went down a  the biscuit shop; sister of [FNM-001], who was killed during the Waterside incident. 
  • Witness 5: Male; ~ 17 at the time of incident; went down a  the biscuit shop, brother of [FNM-002], who was killed during the Waterside incident. 
  • Witness 6: Male, 27 at the time of incident, auctioneer shopping at Waterside; brother of [FNM-003] and [FNM-005], and friends with [FNM-004], all killed during the Waterside incident. 

Facts established through witness testimony

Through the testimony of the six witnesses this week, the following facts were established:

The Waterside incident

  • During a period of severe food scarcity in Monrovia, a biscuit shop down at Waterside (a market area near the Old Bridge) was looted by some civilians, while others waited outside the shop in hopes of buying provisions.  
  • As people were gathered both inside and in front of the shop, armed men arrived on the scene and began shooting.
  • Among these armed men was one most witnesses described as having a Sierra Leonean accent, who identified himself loudly as “Angel Gabriel”; some witnesses indicated also hearing the name “Massaquoi” that day. After introducing himself, this man announced that he was the one who could “send you to God” and “take people to heaven.” 
  • The witnesses indicated that this person calling himself  “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi” appeared to be in command of the armed group.  They testified that he ordered the soldiers to assemble people into a line and also instructed the soldiers as to which people should be removed from the line. Multiple witnesses stated that “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi” gave the soldiers orders to shoot and kill. Further, Witness 4 stated that this commander attempted to rape her sister, [FNM-001], but that when her sister resisted, he instructed the soldiers to “do her work.” In subsequent questioning from the Prosecutor, Witness 4 agreed that this was an order to kill. Witness 4 also mentioned that she, herself, had been raped:further detail about this, however, was not elicited.
  • The soldiers with “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi” had a “base” under the bridge, 
  • People taken out of the line and brought down under the bridge were shot; their dead bodies were left there. Among those who were killed that day were several friends and loved ones of the witnesses, as noted above.
  • At some point during these events, another armed group appeared at the other end of the bridge and began shooting towards the first group of soldiers.
  • In the ensuing chaos, more gunshots were fired from different sides and civilians (including these six witnesses) were able to escape.
  • Each of the six witnesses clarified that this took place in 2000, not 2003, as previously stated to the Finnish police.

Armed groups present in the area during this period of the conflict

  • According to Witness 5 and 6, members of Charles Taylor’s Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) were present at the Waterside event. They were identified by the camouflage worn, and Witness 5 recalled ATU labels on the soldiers’ uniforms; they were reportedly present in support of the man calling himself “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.”  
  • Witness 2, 4, 5, 6 noted that they had heard of LURD, while Witness 6 noted that he had heard of RUF. Witness 2 had also noted the presence of ULIMO-K, ULIMO-J, and ECOMOG at some point in the conflict. 

Recruitment of witnesses and prior interactions with Finnish police

  • Witnesses became involved in the trial in different ways. All but one of them had been contacted by a man named [Employee 1]who had asked them each to confirm whether they had been present during the Waterside incident. When asked how [Employee 1] had known to contact them, Witnesses 1, 4, and 5 said a woman, [FNM-046] had identified others she had seen at the Waterside attack and shared their phone numbers with [Employee 1]  In the case of Witness 6, he had simply been talking about the Waterside incident when [Employee 1]  approached him and asked him if he would be interested in talking about it to the Finnish police when they arrived in Liberia. 
  • Unlike the other witnesses, Witness 3 was contacted by a man referred to as [Employee 2]” who asked a group of people if they had been impacted by the war, and took down the contact information of those who had, eventually forwarding their contact information to [FNM-046] and the Finnish police.
  • Each of the witnesses had spoken with the Finnish police before trial. They reported various challenges, including feeling anxious because it was their first time being questioned by “white men” or “white people,” and difficulty remembering exact dates or even years due to the passage of time and feeling upset. Recordings of these earlier interviews were available to the court and, in some instances, were played by the Defense to highlight specific inconsistencies (described below).

Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense 

This week, the Prosecution sought to establish and corroborate the time and place of the Waterside incident, as well as the presence of Gibril Massaquoi himself. To the first issue, the Prosecution elicited testimony from each witness confirming that the Waterside incident occurred in 2001, instead of 2003, as previously stated to the Finnish police. Witnesses also roundly confirmed that the violence had occurred at the site of a biscuit shop in Waterside, with some civilians being taken “under the bridge” to be killed. Despite apparent agreement regarding the incident occurring in 2001, there remained some confusion regarding precisely when – with repeated reference to “WW1,” “WW2,” and “WW3” as distinct phases of the conflict. As to establishing the presence of the Accused at the Waterside incident, the Prosecution elicited testimony describing the appearance of a commander of the soldiers at Waterside who introduced himself as “Angel Gabriel,” accompanied in some witnesses’ recollection by the surname “Massaquoi.” All but Witness 2 recalled this commander having a Sierra Leonean accent, and two witnesses testified that ATU forces were with the commander’s soldiers. 

The Prosecution also managed to draw out testimony about this commander’s actions. All but one witness recalled this “Angel Gabriel” killing two boys, one of whom was one witness’ brother. Several witnesses said the commander killed two girls, to include Witness 4’s sister. One witness further described “Angel Gabriel’s” attempt to rape her sister just before ordering his soldiers to “do her work.” This expression was later interpreted by the Prosecution as an order to kill, to the agreement of the testifying witness. To explain various inconsistencies in their testimony, witnesses cited the passage of time and, in one case, the inability to get back in touch with investigators to correct mistakes shortly after the initial interview. 

For its part, the Defense asserted that the witnesses’ testimony was unreliable. The Defense highlighted several inconsistencies, including shifting responses related to the month and year the Waterside incident occurred, as well as other issues such as the witnesses’ ages and recollections of the duration and scope of the war in Liberia. To illustrate some of these inconsistencies, the Defense showed a few witnesses video recordings of their interviews with Finnish police in which they provided different answers to questions than during the present trial, especially regarding the year of Waterside incident. Again, the witnesses attributed these inconsistencies to the passage of time and, for a few, the nervousness they felt at being interviewed by the Finnish police. 

The Defense also sought to cast doubt on the witnesses’ testimony by raising the possibility that it had been compromised. Counsel asked each of the witnesses if they had discussed their experiences at Waterside with others before testifying. Several questions focused on possible conversations with [Employee 1], who had put all but Witness 2 in touch with the Finnish authorities. The Defense also routinely asked witnesses whether they had discussed the incident at Waterside with others prior to their interviews and testimony. The witnesses uniformly denied having been told what to say. They steadfastly denied discussing their experiences in more than the broadest terms before speaking with Finnish police and in the courtroom in Monrovia. 

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