Week in Review – Week 5

Introduction to Week 5’s hearings and witnesses

The fifth week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 10 March 2021, after three days of hearings in Monrovia, Liberia. Hearings focused on the testimony of seven witnesses, six of whom recounted their experiences during and after an attack at the Waterside market in Monrovia. The seventh witness, a former RUF member, provided context and information about Gibril Massaquoi’s movements and activities in Liberia from 1999-2001. As with prior witnesses, their names  were withheld.

The witnesses were heard in the following order and are described as follows:

Trial Monitoring Day 13 (8 March 2021)

  • Witness 15: Defense witness; female; ~18-20 at time of the incident; went to Waterside to sell at auction; was captured, beaten, and observed people being killed.
  • Witness 16: Prosecution witness; male; ~10-12 at time of incident; went to Waterside to get goods; was captured, detained in a building, and heard guns firing after other detainees were taken outside the building.
  • Witness 17: Defense witness; male; ~30-32 at time of the incident; worked in Monrovia as a medical personnel treating individuals injured by fighting in Waterside (during 2001-2003); heard details of an incident at a biscuit shop in Waterside from patients. His testimony will resume on March 16. 

Trial Monitoring Day 14 (9 March 2021)

  • Witness 18: Prosecution witness; female; ~19-21 at time of the incident; went to Waterside to purchase goods; was captured and observed people being killed.
  • Witness 19: Prosecution witness; male; ~13-15 at time of the incident; went to Waterside with older brother to purchase rice; was captured and observed people being killed.

Trial Monitoring Day 15 (10 March 2021)

  • Witness 20: Prosecution witness; female; age unknown; went to Waterside with her little sister to buy goods; was captured and observed people, including her sister, being killed.
  • Witness 21: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; Sierra Leonean; former RUF member and bodyguard of Foday Sankoh; was assigned from 1999-2001 to work in the guesthouse in Monrovia where Gibril Massaquoi and other members of the RUF stayed. “

Commonalities in Witness Testimony

Several common narratives emerged with respect to the Waterside incident, as well as these witnesses’ interactions with the Finnish police:

The Waterside incident

  • At the time of the incident, people came to Waterside to purchase food or goods.
  • Most of the stores in Waterside were closed on the day of the incident, but one store had been broken into, and people were taking supplies from the store when soldiers began firing on civilians. Witnesses continued to testify that Angel Gabriel spoke with a Sierra Leonean accent.
  • The soldiers shot some civilians, beat others, and tied many up. They also brought civilians to a checkpoint by the Old Bridge.
  • Witness 18 and Witness 19 stated that they saw Angel Gabriel shoot and kill people with a pistol.
  • Witness accounts of Angel Gabriel’s attire on the day of the incident varied, albeit with some consistencies: Witness 15 described him as wearing a grey and black uniform with a white shirt; Witness 18 described him as wearing army camouflage with a white shirt, which on cross-examination she described as a t-shirt; and Witness 20 described him as wearing a green “Liberian soldier uniform” over a t-shirt.
  • Witness 18 corroborated testimony by earlier witnesses that Angel Gabriel’s men captured and took some girls into a building near the Old Bridge. Witness 19 corroborated earlier testimony that, in that building, Angel Gabriel took one woman for himself and told his soldiers to choose women for themselves.
  • This week’s witnesses provided further testimony that some individual soldiers helped certain civilians escape the violence.
  • Witnesses corroborated earlier testimony that, sometime after the violence began, another group of soldiers led by a uniformed Liberian man arrived, asking Angel Gabriel why they were harming civilians, and telling them to let the people go.

Identifying remarks that continued from last week’s testimony

  • Witnesses this week also testified about common phrases they heard from Angel Gabriel. For example:
    • “When you go, tell God that, I, Angel Gabriel, sent you.”
    • “I, Angel Gabriel, sent them to heaven! When y’all go, tell God I sent you.”
    • “Take these guys and kill them! When they go, they will say I, Angel Gabriel, sent them.”
    • “Go and tell the papay that I sent you.” 
  • As noted above, witnesses continued to assert that Angel Gabriel spoke like a Sierra Leonean, and not a Liberian.
  • , Witnesses 17 and 19 testified to having heard the name “Massaquoi” in connection with the commander responsible for the Waterside incident:
    • Witness 17, a medical professional, reported hearing the name “Massaquoi” from patients he treated for injuries suffered  during the Waterside incident.
    • Witness 19, a victim of the Waterside incident, was held captive by Angel Gabriel’s men. He testified that a woman held captive with him explained, “His name is Gabriel Massaquoi, but the name Angel Gabriel is his war name.” On cross-examination, the Defense played recordings of Witness 19’s interview with the Finnish police, which seemed to indicate that Witness 19 was unfamiliar with the name “Massaquoi” until [Person Z] disclosed that name to him.

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

  • Witness 15 had previously told Finnish police that LURD operated across the Old Bridge in Vai Town, that the RUF operated with Liberian troops, and that Angel Gabriel was the RUF commander. At trial, however, Witness 15 testified that she was unsure which groups were operating in the area and that she did not know of any commanders other than Angel Gabriel.
  • Witness 17 testified that the militia and government troops were both present in Waterside, and that LURD rebels fired missiles from across the bridge at Waterside. The Witness also testified that LURD rebels were present in Monrovia prior to June 2003.
  • Witness 18 testified that she had heard there were LURD rebels in Liberia.
  • Witness 20 testified that, at the time, she heard that LURD forces were in the Duala area of Monrovia.

Establishment of contact between the witnesses and Finnish police

  • As stated in testimony heard in prior weeks, [Employee 1] was the point of contact between most of the witnesses and the Finnish police: Witnesses 15, 18, 19, and 20 all met the Finnish police through [Employee 1].
  • Witness 16 said that a friend of his, [Person V], told him about the Finnish investigation.
  • Witness 17 said that he saw the Finnish delegation in Waterside and thought they looked strange, so he approached them to see what they were looking for.
  • Witness 21 was contacted by a member of the Finnish police who got his number from Mr. Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima. The Witness stated that he had worked, and continues to work, with Mr. Werner and Civitas Maxima on other cases, but not on this case. He further stated that he had never discussed this case with Mr. Werner.

Additional themes

References to child soldiers

  • Witness 18 stated that a “little boy” hit her with the butt of his gun, and Prosecution later described this boy as a child soldier, which Witness 18 confirmed.

References to the desecration of human remains

  • The Defense asked Witness 15 several times whether she had seen “Angel” do anything to the bodies. Though she initially stated that she had not, upon hearing Defense read out her prior statement to the Finnish police, she recalled that Angel had taken intestines from a body and laid it across the road, to create a line that people should not cross.

Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense

Much like last week, this week saw the Prosecution continuing to try and corroborate both the timeline of events surrounding the Waterside incident, as well as the presence of Mr. Gibril Massaquoi at the scene. The Prosecution elicited estimates on the year of the incident from the five witnesses who testified to having been on the scene of the incident; each included the year 2001, though Witness 15 estimated late 2000 to early 2001 and Witness 20 estimated 2001-2002. These five witnesses also testified to hearing the name “Angel Gabriel”, and Witness 19 added that another person present at Waterside had said that the real name of this “Angel Gabriel” was “Gabriel Massaquoi”. Witness 17, called by the Defence, testified that the name “Massaquoi” was mentioned by his patients in 2001/2002, and in late 2002-early 2003.

Again, both Prosecution and Defense sought to clarify the timeline of events, and in particular, the way these events related to “WW1”, “WW2”, and “WW3”.

Through Witness 21, the Prosecution sought to establish that Mr. Massaquoi was in Monrovia at the time most witnesses testified the Waterside incident took place, as well as to set the stage for Mr. Massaquoi’s participation in fighting in Lofa County during the same time period. Witness 21 testified that Mr. Massaquoi stayed, from 2000-2001, in a guest house in Monrovia, which had been given to Foday Sankoh by Charles Taylor. Witness 21 provided details about Mr. Massaquoi’s movements and activities while in Monrovia, including the procurement of arms from White Flower, Charles Taylor’s residence, and various trips to Lofa County and elsewhere. The Witness stated that he had accompanied Mr. Massaquoi twice to Lofa County, and that Mr. Massaquoi actively participated in combat and the transfer of diamonds. 

The Defense continued its tactic of challenging the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony, both by highlighting apparent  inconsistencies between their testimony in court and recorded prior statements they had made to Finnish police, as well as by questioning witnesses about the manner in which they came into contact with the Finnish police.  These inconsistencies ranged from details such as Witness 20’s recollection of a uniform’s color, to the year the Waterside incident was said to have happened. The witnesses frequently ascribed these inconsistencies to their nerves when being interviewed by the Finnish police, and asserted that their testimony before the Court was accurate. 

The Defense explicitly drew attention to connections it perceived between the witnesses and external organizations, including, in particular, Civitas Maxima. The Defense alleged that Witness 19 might have been coached on what happened at Waterside, and that he did not actually see the incident himself. The Defense also noted the connection between Witness 21 and Civitas Maxima, eliciting testimony from the Witness that he was currently involved in an unrelated project with the organization and had known Mr. Alain Werner, its Director, since 2007. The Defense also alleged that Witness 21 had spoken with Mr. Werner regarding this case, stating that Mr. Werner had notified the Finnish police that the Witness had security concerns about testifying in Sierra Leone. Witness 19 maintained that he had been at Waterside, and Witness 21 offered that while he and Mr. Werner are in contact, they have not spoken about the present case. For their part, the remaining witnesses that were heard this week denied having spoken with any organizations about their experiences at Waterside or this case in general.

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