17/03/21 [Liberia] Day 17: The Hearing of Witnesses 25, 26 and 27

The seventeenth day of public hearings resumed on March 17th 2021 in Monrovia, Liberia.

WITNESS 25 is Heard

The Prosecution questions Witness 25

Witness 25 testified about the arrival of soldiers in her hometown in Lofa County, and the subsequent events that she experienced. The Witness stated that these events occurred in 2001, during the dry season, and involved people she described as Sierra Leoneans led by “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.” The Witness recalled that she was in Kotuhun when she learned that soldiers had arrived, so she left to join her family in Babahun, a nearby village. Upon arrival, the Witness and her family were held at gunpoint by a large group of people who had surrounded Babahun. These people began taking property and goods out of Witness 25’s father’s house, and when the Witness protested, one of the soldiers hit her ear, causing hearing damage that she continues to experience today. The soldiers started burning houses, and said they were simply doing as ordered. They then gathered the villagers and made them carry the looted goods on their heads onto the road out of town. Witness 25 later explained that if they were unwilling to carry the stolen goods for the soldiers, they would be killed. 

The Witness explained that, on the way to their destination, the soldiers tied her son up and demanded that she carry her father’s belongings. When the Witness refused, a man said “you know my name? I’m Quick-to-Kill oh!” and ordered her to do as he said. When the Witness refused a second time, Quick-to-Kill stabbed her shoulder with his knife. 

The soldiers stopped the villagers at a junction along the road to Kundo Bendu, at which point the soldiers shot and killed Witness 25’s son. The Witness began crying after testifying to the loss of her son, and the Court gave her several minutes to compose herself before continuing the hearing. The Prosecution emphasized that anytime the Witness needed a break, she could just inform the Court.   

The Witness continued, explaining that, after the soldiers killed her son, they began to argue amongst themselves about money. Taking advantage of the distraction, Witness 25 escaped from the soldiers into the bush, using a bypass between Kolahun and Kortohun. In the bush, the Witness reunited with her mother and father. 

The Witness recalled that, every day while they hid in the bush, soldiers would attack and capture people. Eventually, the Witness and her mother were captured and brought into Babahun, where one of their captors explained that everything they did was part of their orders, and that, if they were ordered by their commander to kill everyone, they would. The Witness said that her captor, [Soldier 9], wanted to cut off her whole ear, but was stopped by another soldier who told the first that this would be beyond the scope of their orders. Instead, [Soldier 9] cut off a piece of her ear. 

While being held in Babahun, Witness 25 saw the soldiers kill [Victim 22, Victim 23, and Victim 24], and light her father’s house on fire. [Soldier 9] announced that their commander was on his way, and all of the soldiers gathered to see him. The Witness recalled that the commander introduced himself by saying “I, Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”, and the Witness added that his name was Gibril Massaquoi. She further stated that he spoke Krio with his soldiers. He told his soldiers to do anything he said, and announced: “I don’t want to see no living thing”. He then told the soldiers to “give him light”, and the soldiers opened fire onto the villagers. 

Witness 25 then explained that this was the first time she saw Angel Gabriel Massaquoi, and that he arrived at Babahun in a jeep. The Witness reiterated that Angel Gabriel was giving orders, and that at one point she heard him say, “the order that I’m about to give, there should be no living thing around here.” Furthermore, Witness 25 said that, although Angel Gabriel was not there when they were carrying the loads of goods, it was his group that told her to carry the load, following his orders. The Witness said she was told to carry the goods from Babahun to Kundo Bendu (towards the Liberia-Sierra Leone border), and later stated that it was less than an hour’s walk. 

Finally, Witness 25 answered several questions about how she was interviewed by the Finnish police. The Witness stated that she was not in town when they first came, but she heard strangers had come to Kotuhun asking to speak with victims of the war. Witness 25 volunteered to speak to them because her son had been killed. She stated that she has not spoken with anyone since the interview about what happened to her during the war. 

The Defense questions Witness 25

The Defense began by asking about Witness 25’s interactions with the Finnish police. The Witness clarified that she was just outside town when the strangers first came. The town chief told her that these strangers wanted to speak to all those affected by the war, and that they would return again later. The Witness described them as two white men, and one female interpreter, and explained that they first asked everyone in the village whether they had been hurt or victimized during the war. When asked by the Defense whether she discussed what had happened in town, Witness 25 said she had not, but that she travelled with them to Voinjama, where she was interviewed. She stated that, when she went to Voinjama, she was the only person they brought there, and that she did not know who else they spoke to. 

Next, the Defense asked about the name of the commander. The Witness said the commander, who did not want to see any living thing, said, “I Gibril Massaquoi. I am Angel Gabriel Massaquoi, I am second to God!” The Defense pointed out that, when the Witness spoke with the Finnish police, she only mentioned the name “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”, and not “Gibril Massaquoi”. The Witness explained that, whether you say ‘Gibril Massaquoi’, ‘Angel Gabriel Massaquoi’, or ‘Gabriel Massaquoi’, they are “the same Massaquoi.” The Defense pressed the Witness on this point, asking whether the police had made an error by only writing down “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”, to which Witness 25 responded that she hadn’t been the one writing things down.

Finally, the Defense identified several discrepancies in Witness 25’s testimony compared to what she told the police. During the police interview, Witness 25 stated that she first saw Angel Gabriel Massaquoi in Kotuhun, although she now stated this was in Babahun. Witness 25 was firm that the location was Babahun, because, though she may have said Kotuhun, she had returned to Babahun to be with her parents when the war was coming. She further stated that, when she saw Angel Gabriel Massaquoi in Babahun, he wore camouflage, and arrived in a jeep with a driver, whereas the rest of the soldiers travelled through the bush on foot. Next, the Defense mentioned that Witness 25 had initially stated this event took place in 1997, but during the hearing she claimed it occurred in 2001. The Witness explained that, at the time she was interviewed, she was not sure of the year. Finally, the Defense asked why the Witness had not previously mentioned her ear injury. She explained that, when interviewed, she was solely focused on the death of her son and her stab wound, but that she has since had time to think about it. She added that she had not been raped by the soldiers. 

Finally, when asked whether the Witness remembered what “this Massaquoi guy” looked like, or if police showed her a photo of him, Witness 25 responded that she saw him with her own eyes in Babahun, and that she was not shown a picture of Angel Gabriel Massaquoi nor anyone else by investigators.

WITNESS 26 is Heard

The Prosecution Questions Witness 26

Witness 26 began his testimony by recalling a time in 2001 when soldiers came to his village, Kotohun I, and captured him. On the morning the soldiers came, the Witness’ wife, [Victim 29], and little sister, [Victim 30], had gone to produce palm oil in the pit. Witness 26 was met by the soldiers in town, who told the Witness not to move. He recalled that the soldiers were speaking Krio and Mende. He stated that they had many leaders in the group, but the main one that entered the village was speaking Krio, and the Witness said he could name him. The soldiers were all around in the bush, and also went to the pit where the Witness’ wife and sister were. He explained that his wife and sister ran from the soldiers, and as they were running away, the soldiers shot them both. The Witness clarified that he heard this from someone else, as at the time he was held captive by the soldiers. After the Witness heard the news about his wife and sister, the soldiers started firing into the town. 

Next, the Witness explained that he and other villagers were brought to the center of town, and the soldiers started entering their homes and taking things out of them. The Witness stated that, when the soldiers entered a house, they took any valuables they saw, such as rice, goats, chickens, or mattresses. After taking things from the houses, the soldiers set fire to about seven homes. The soldiers put the loads of goods on the heads of the villagers, and then they all went to another village, Kolahun. Once there, the soldiers placed loads on everybody’s heads, and they started traveling to another town, Kundo Bendu, and then onto Foya. When they arrived, the soldiers took the goods from the villagers and put the villagers in jail, in a large old store. The Witness explained that the next morning, everyone was in jail together. The Witness later stated that there were roughly 10-15 people kept in the same room, and that they were not free to walk around during the day.

The Witness then clarified that the soldiers had many leaders, but that the main leader spoke Krio. Describing his encounter with the leader, the Witness explained that, the morning after they were put in jail in Foya, he saw a tall light-skinned man in the center of the town. The soldiers brought the captured villagers to this man, who said “I am Angel Gabriel, next to God. All these people y’all keep them.” The Witness explained that this was how he knew the leader’s name. He stated that he also saw that commander the following day, though the commander did not speak that time. The villagers were kept in the same place for two days, and on the third day, the Witness escaped. Later, the Witness clarified that he had been able to escape because he was tasked by the soldiers to fetch water.

The Prosecution asked the Witness if anything else occurred in Foya. The Witness explained that the villagers were beaten. The Witness noted that the soldiers used to go to many other villages every day, but the only time he was forced to go to these other villages was when they took him to Kundo Bendu. 

The Prosecution asked the Witness if the commander knew that the villagers were forced to carry the loads. The Witness responded that he did, because he saw the villagers in a group with loads on their heads, and further stated that the captured villagers had no shirts or footwear on. Witness 26 also explained that he knew there was a base for the soldiers in Foya, because he saw the base right on the main street. He explained that you would see civilians on one side and soldiers on the other. 

After escaping, Witness 26 went back to the palm oil pit, where he saw his sister and his wife’s bodies. He shouted, “Oh God! My life is finished oh. I am destroyed! I had no more sister, and my wife is gone.” Witness 26 asked the townspeople to help bury his wife and sister, but because their bodies had been lying on the ground for three days, they were unable to bring them back to town. Instead, the group cleared an area in the bush and dug graves for his wife and sister. After arriving back in town, the families whose homes were burnt were told to live with other families until something could be done.

After the Witness recounted his experience, the Prosecution asked if the main commander was Angel Gabriel Massaquoi, the name the Witness used during his testimony. The Court interjected to correct the Prosecution, as the Witness said “Angel Gabriel” and not “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”. The Witness then confirmed to the Prosecution that the man he called Angel Gabriel was the main commander.  

When asked about the Finnish police, the Witness stated that white people came to speak with him about this incident roughly two years ago. The Witness also explained that, other than the Finnish police, some black people had come to his village to ask about the incident. The town chief called for elders, but they were not in town, and so the black men said they would come back another time. Witness 26 explained that the black men did come back, along with two white people. This group asked, “Who in this town here something bad happened to during the war?”, and the Witness raised his hand. He told them that his wife and sister were killed, that he was beaten, and that a load was put on his head. 

The Prosecution asked the Witness whether his wife had a baby at the time of the incident. The Witness explained that she did, and stated that, when his wife was shot, the bullet pierced the baby’s arm, leaving a mark that remained on the child’s hand to this day. Witness 26 confirmed that the baby survived the attack. 

The Witness confirmed that the event occurred in early 2001, but didn’t recall the specific date or month. When asked where the women from the village were on the day of the incident, the Witness explained that many of them were at the market in Kolahun. He clarified that the events must have occurred on a Monday, as every Monday was market day in Kolahun, but noted that this did not allow him to link the incident to a particular date. 

The Defense Questions Witness 26

The Defense began its questioning by asking about the different groups of people that had come to his village to inquire about the incident. The Witness explained that, around 2018, some black people came and asked for the town chief. The black people said that another group was going to come later. The Defense asked about the time between the first and second group coming, and the Witness said it took a long time. The Witness explained that the second group that came was composed of two black people and two white people, as well as a third black person who was driving them. However, he could not remember whether they told him their names, nor did the group tell him if they were representing any organization.

The Witness explained that he was contacted because the group asked for those affected during the war, and he had raised his hand. Later that same day, he was called to the town hall and      asked to explain what happened. The Witness could not recall the names of the people who interviewed him, nor the exact date. The Defense asked the Witness why he had mentioned the date August 16, 2002, and the Witness said it was because he can forget. He was also asked if he knew [Witness 27], to which the Witness responded that he did. The Defense asked the Witness to explain how [Witness 27] also said the incident occurred on the same date, to which the Witness responded that [Witness 27] was living on the road.

The Defense also asked Witness 26 why he did not tell the Finnish police that his wife or sister suffered violence. The Witness replied that he told the Finnish police his wife and sister were killed – however the Defense noted that during the interview the Witness had said that they found the bodies of two women, without specifying who they were to him. The Witness responded that, on the day of the incident [Victim 29] and [Victim 30] went to process palm oil, and on the day of his interview, he spoke of them. The Witness clarified that the child that was carried on [Victim 29]’s back was not his child, and that his wife was the baby’s aunt.

The Court took a brief recess because of a power outage

When questioning resumed, the Defense asked for the name of the commander of the group that made him carry the load of goods. When the Witness stated that he did not know, the Defense pointed to a prior statement, where he had named “Edward” as the group’s leader. Witness 26 explained that he had mentioned the name Edward, because he had met Edward in the big store (the jail) when he was carried to Foya. The Defense stated that, in the recording, the Witness said Edward from Sierra Leone was leading the people that came to his village. The Witness replied that they came in a group and he couldn’t remember the name. The Court then played the recording, which included the Witness responding to a question about the group’s leader by saying, “When they entered, they were just commanding. But I remember one name, his name was Edward […] He called his name”. After the recording ended, the Witness said that the soldiers came in a group, and that he now remembered the name, but was nevertheless firm that he did not say that Edward was the commander.

The Prosecution and the Defense spoke among themselves about the name Edward, and whether Edward was a commander. The Court replayed the audio clip twice, and accepted that Edward was not the name of a commander, but rather just a name related to the incident. This concluded Witness 26’s testimony. 

WITNESS 27 is Heard

The Prosecution Questions Witness 27

Witness 27 recounted an incident in which he and others were taken from their hometown by a group of soldiers, during the dry season in early 2001. The soldiers came at night, knocking on doors and bringing people outside, where they were beaten. They were led by [Soldier 13], a Kissi man who the Witness later stated was part of the RUF. The Witness clarified that knew the group was the RUF because they spoke Krio and Mende. 

[Soldier 13] was looking for a “WO2”, a government soldier named [Soldier 14], who allegedly took one of their pigs from Konobo. The Witness told the soldiers he had not seen the man, but offered to find out and get back to them the next day. The soldiers accepted this, but added that if they did not see the pig the next morning when they returned, the town would be burnt. Witness 27 took the threat for a joke, but the next day the soldiers returned and gathered everyone in the town center. The soldiers started taking belongings out of the homes, and the Witness recalled a man who said, “after we finish, let’s give the people light.” Roughly five children under the age of ten were locked under a veranda so that they would not escape, and the soldiers began setting the houses ablaze. 

The Witness and others from his hometown, including [Victim 32], who has since died, [Victim 33], [Victim 34], and [Victim 35], were told to take the goods from their homes and go. They went to Kotohun I, and then to Kotohun II, where the Witness reported the soldiers burned five houses. They continued to travel, and the soldiers beat the group along the way. They passed through Kolahun, where more people were captured and made to carry loads. Witness 27 carried a sewing machine. The captives carried these loads through Kundo Bendu and ran from there to Foya. [Soldier 13] led the group until they arrived in Foya, where he turned the captives over to his Krio-speaking commander. The Witness later identified the commander as Gibril Massaquoi. Witness 27 clarified that he learned this name when they arrived in Foya, as [Soldier 13] said, “C.O. Massaquoi, here are the people”. The Witness stated that this commander saw, but did not comment on, the load Witness 27 was carrying. 

Witness 27 recalled that the first thing the commander asked was why [Soldier 13] had brought “this old pap”. He then told [Soldier 13] to hold the group in a room until the following morning. Witness 27 and [Victim 31] were placed in one room, while two underage girls and one woman, [Victim 28], were placed in an adjacent room. Witness 27 heard soldiers rape the two underage girls and gang rape [Victim 28]. [Victim 28] and the girls cried for the Witness to help them, and he remembered that he told the women he had no power, and because those people were treating them really badly, he started to cry.      

The next morning, [Victim 31] and Witness 27 were taken to a different place. They were kept for two days and were then released. Witness 27 was left without shoes or a shirt, and only had a pair of shorts. The Witness remembered seeing many RUF soldiers in Foya on the day of his release. He and [Victim 31] started to take the road to their home, but were warned by a woman that there were many soldiers that way, so they struck off through the bush. There they met the two underage girls who had been raped, who they took to a clinic run by a man named [Person A10] for treatment. Witness 27 noted that [Victim 28] died a few days later. Witness 27 testified that the whole ordeal saw him away from his hometown for five days. 

Witness 27 said he was contacted by the Finnish police through his town chief, who told him and the other villagers that people had come and wanted to talk with them about their experiences during the war. The Witness spoke with the Finnish police in Voinjama, and clarified that he had not spoken with anyone other than the Finnish police as to what had happened to him because “how will I explain this to other people when they have their own problems?”

The Defense Questions Witness 27

The Defense asked the Witness about his experience with the Finnish police. Witness 27 explained that he was living in Kotohun II in 2019 when he first encountered them. The police had gone to Kotohun I and asked to speak with people about what happened during the war. The town chief of Kotohun I then sent a message to Kotohun II, saying that white people had come to ask about the war. During the town’s Saturday meeting, the chief announced that people could voluntarily schedule a meeting with the police to tell them what they experienced. People were skeptical, but Witness 27 ultimately gave his name, as he wanted to say something. The meetings took place during the course of the week.

The Defense asked whether Witness 27 knew who [Employee 1] was, and the Witness said he did not, offering instead the name of a friend with the same first name as [Employee 1]. Witness 27 noted that no other people had come to his town asking about the war before the white people came. When asked about a report by [Employee 1] that placed Witness 27 in Kotuhun during the civil war, the Witness reiterated that he did not know [Employee 1]. 

The Defense then asked whether the Witness remembered the date that the incident occurred. Witness 27 explained that he was in a state of confusion when the Finnish police came, as he did not expect people to come asking about the war. He affirmed that, had he been prepared, he could have said more. The Defense noted that the police wrote that the Witness said the village was burned on 16 August 2002, but the Witness stressed that he did not recall the date. The Defense added that another witness, [Witness 26], gave that same date in his police interview, and asked Witness 27 whether he discussed what happened or the date it happened with [Witness 26]. The Witness denied having done so. The Defense repeated that Witness 27 had given the police the exact same date, month, year, and day of the week as [Witness 26], and that they had provided the same reason for knowing this exact date. The Witness responded that he meant what he said, and that [Witness 26] was “an evidence for himself”. The Defense pressed on, reminding Witness 27 that he had said he knew it was Monday, because that’s when most women go to market in Kolahun, on 16 August 2002, but the Witness simply said “I told you no.”

The Witness ended his testimony by clarifying that the man he identified as Massaquoi was the commander of the RUF in Foya, but that he did not know how long Massaquoi was in the Foya region, as he did not go there again after his release.

The hearing concluded and will resume on 18th March in Monrovia, Liberia.

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