22/03/21 [Liberia] Day 19: The Hearing of Witnesses 31, 32, and 33
The nineteenth day of public hearings resumed on 22 March 2021 in Monrovia, Liberia.
Witness 31 is heard
(Finnish Witness ID: Civilian 13)
The Prosecution questions Witness 31
The Witness began by testifying about events that took place in Kamatahun, where he was living during the war. He explained that when LURD forces came, the Witness and others in the town fled into the bush. They remained there until the government forces came and took them back into town. The government forces then left the town in order to launch an offensive against the LURD forces, but were unable to repel them, and subsequently returned to the town.
The Witness recalled one day when the government forces had called “their friends” to come and help them; the reinforcements that arrived spoke Krio. They joined the government forces in a subsequent attack, and returned with some people. These people were divided by the government forces and reinforcements, who killed some of them, and left the others.
After three days, the group went out of the town once again, and brought back more people, who were subsequently placed inside a building. The next afternoon, one of the commanders who they used to call by the name “General Gabriel” gave an order to the “children” (young soldiers), saying, “y’all put fire on that one leh it burn”. Everyone stayed in the house and was burned alive. The Witness described feeling afraid at the time.
The Witness explained seeing the soldiers capturing seven women and tying all of them up. The same General Gabriel said to his soldiers: “anything y’all want to do to them, y’all do to them”. When the women were being taken away, General Gabriel followed. The next day, all of the women were found naked and dead. Upon seeing the women, the Witness recalled thinking that the soldiers had raped the women, and that was why they were naked.
One of the soldiers, [FNM-117], told the Witness to come with him to get food. Noting that he was very afraid after seeing the soldiers kill people, he followed the soldier into the bush but then escaped. The Witness recalled that these incidents took place in 2001 but couldn’t recall the date. He clarified that there are two Kamatahuns but he was referring to Kamatahun Hassala.
The Witness further explained that the people were locked in a house near the mosque in the center of Kamatahun Hassala, which he noted was on the left side when going towards Vahun. He noted that Gabriel was the general among the soldiers, and reiterated that it was General Gabriel who gave the orders to put the people in the house, set it on fire, and later to tie the women up. He clarified that he heard General Gabriel give these orders, as he was close by and could hear anything they said. He stated also that he could see them.
The Witness explained that he knew that the man’s name was General Gabriel because the soldiers called him by this name. The Witness added that he had not heard them referring to the man by another name. The Witness stated that he saw where the women were taken and that he knew the place, even to this day. He explained that they were taken behind the blacksmith’s shop, to a house which has since broken down. The Witness recalled seeing Gabriel following the soldiers who were taking the women to the kitchen. When asked whether he had seen Gabriel go inside the kitchen with them, the Witness noted that they had remained in there all night, so he does “not know exactly what happened”. The next morning, the Witness saw the bodies of the women in the kitchen, and it made him so scared that he decided to hide. He explained that all of the women were naked, and some of them had been killed with a knife, whilst others had been beaten.
When asked how many people were in the house that was burned down, the Witness estimated that there were approximately thirty-five. The Prosecution then returned to questions regarding the women who had been taken to the blacksmith’s kitchen. The Witness stated that he was not sure how old the women were, noting that some of them were “matured.” He explained that there were too many soldiers that went with the women for him to count, and reiterated that, the General said: “y’all go and do anything you feel like doing to them.”
The Prosecution then asked how the Witness had come into contact with the Finnish police. The Witness stated that, one day after he and others came in from the bush, they were told that people came to ask what happened during the war. According to the Witness, after six months, some white people came and began questioning them, and he told them about the incidents he described in the courtroom today. He concluded by remarking that he did not see the people who originally came, so could not say if they were white or black, and that no one else has come to ask them about the war other than the Finnish police.
The Defense questions Witness 31
The Defense continued the line of questioning about how the Witness had come into contact with the Finnish police. The Witness reiterated that he was not present when the people first came, and stated that they had met with the leaders of the town, who had then passed the information on to him. He noted that he did not ask whether it was black or white people who had first approached the leaders of the town. The Witness recalled that the first time he met with white people, they simply arrived, interviewed him, and left on the same day. The Defense asked the Witness whether any of his family members were interviewed before he was, to which the Witness replied that no one had told him this. The Defense noted that the police report stated that the Witness’s brother had been interviewed the previous day, and that he was the one who brought the Witness to the Finnish police. The Defense further asked the Witness if he knew anything about two other people being interviewed on the same day as he was, as this was also stated in the police report. The Witness replied “yes”, and further elaborated that the people did not sleep there, they just interviewed them and went back. The Defense again asked if the Witness knew they had interviewed his brother the previous day, to which he replied that they did not know the people were coming before they arrived, but only knew what the elders had previously told them after the people first visited. When asked again if he knew they were coming that day, the Witness responded that the people had told them they were coming back, and then after six months passed, they had forgotten about it. When asked who had told them that the people were coming, he gave the name of the town chief, [FNM-086]. The Defense asked if they used to call the town chief [FNM-078], to which the Witness replied that he knew [FNM-078] from when the white people came.
The Court called for a break for clarification, after the Defense questioning was interrupted by the Prosecution. The Defense also had an issue with the Gbandi translator for the next Witness, and claimed that there was a conflict of interest as the translator works for, or previously worked for, the Finnish police, and that he had also been in court during testimony.
The Defense asked the Witness when he had last seen [FNM-078]. The Witness stated that he did not know whether [FNM-078] had been present in the courtroom, and noted that he had not seen [FNM-078] that day. The Defense asked whether the Witness had seen [FNM-078] in his hometown, to which the Witness replied that there is no such person with that name in his hometown. He added that, the day the white people came was the day that he had met [FNM-078] for the first time, and since then, he hasn’t seen [FNM-078]. The Witness recalled that [FNM-078] arrived with the white people and left with them as well. The Defense then asked if the witness knew [Employee 1], and the Witness replied that he had never seen [Employee 1].
The Defense asked the Witness if his interview with the Finnish police was recorded, to which the Witness replied that he did not know whether it was recorded. The Defense noted that it was recorded, and that the Witness had stated in that interview that he had met [FNM-078] before the Finnish police came, and that [FNM-078] had told him that white guys were going to come and interview the Witness about how the war ended. The Witness denied saying this, reiterating that the people had met with the elders and [FNM-078] had not told him about the people coming.
(The recording is played)
The Defense reiterated that, in the recording, the Witness stated that he had met [FNM-078] before the Finnish police were there. The Witness explained that there may have been some miscommunication, as he did not talk “face-to-face” with [FNM-078], but rather [FNM-078] had spoken with the people in the town. The Defense additionally noted that the police also told the Witness that they had spoken with his brother. The Witness stated that more than one person had come, so it was possible that, while one person was talking to him, other people were talking to others.
The Defense pivoted to questioning the Witness about the house that was burned down, and the women who had been taken behind the blacksmith’s kitchen. The Witness stated that these incidents did not occur on the same day, but that he was not entirely sure how much time had passed between them, because it happened during a war. The Witness further stated that “it was after one week the thing took place”, because the soldiers would rest a little after going to fight. The Witness recalled that all of the houses in Kamatahun Hassala were burned down, except for the blacksmith’s kitchen and one other house. He explained that the soldiers did not burn the entire town on the same day that they set fire to the house with people inside, because the soldiers were living in some of the houses themselves. He clarified that he and others had returned to the town after the war was over to see it burned down. The Witness again noted that it was 2001 when he was in Kamatahun Hassala and witnessed the incidents, after which he ran away from the town, also in 2001. As a result, he said he could not say what happened there in 2002 and 2003.
The Defense put to the Witness that he had told the Finnish police that the soldiers had burned the whole town in 2003, to which the Witness replied that they were staying in the bush because the LURD forces were “coming and going.” He also reiterated that the only houses that remained after the town was burned was the blacksmith’s kitchen and one other house. The Defense further questioned the Witness about whether he saw, or only heard about, the burning of the house. The Witness reiterated that the event occurred close to his house, and he “saw with [his] own eyes when they set the house on fire”, clarifying that, when the people started crying, he left, as he could not stand there and watch. He further clarified that the incidents he described had happened from 2001 to 2002.
(A recording is played)
In the recording, the Witness stated that the whole village was burned down in 2003 and that the other incidents took place between 2001 and 2003. He explained that the soldiers said that the spirits of the people they had killed were haunting them in the houses, so they burned the whole town and left in 2003.
The Defense asked the Witness to estimate how many times he saw the commander who was giving the orders. The Witness stated that he believed that he had seen him six times, and reiterated that where he was living was not far from where they stayed. The Witness recalled that [FNM-114], Benjamin Yeaten, and “Superman” were in town, and noted that they were also commanders. When asked about the name Zigzag Marzah, the Witness stated that he had also been there doing bad things, and noted that he was from Liberia. The Defense then asked the Witness whether the Commander arrived on foot or by car, to which the Witness responded he saw all of them walking, and that they were not in a car.
The Prosecution asked the final question of whether the Witness knew where the other people, like General Gabriel, were from. The Witness replied that all of them were speaking Krio, and that he knows that Krio is from Sierra Leone.
Witness 32 is heard
(Finnish Witness ID: Civilian 16)
The Prosecution questions Witness 32
Witness 32 began by testifying to events that occurred in Kamatahun Hassala (referred to simply as “Kamatahun”). The Witness was the town chief there during the war, and still is today. Witness 32 began narrating the events that occurred there during the war, stating that a government commander first called him and told him to take their broken bike to Kolahun. While doing so, the Witness and others he was with encountered soldiers running towards them from Kolahun, going in the direction of Kamatahun Hassala. The soldiers told them that LURD forces had already attacked Kolahun, so the Witness and others turned around to return to Kamatahun Hassala. The next day, the Witness saw Benjamin Yeaten and other soldiers pass by the town in a jeep, and tell the townspeople to fix a broken bridge. The next day, LURD forces attacked Kamatahun Hassala around 11 a.m., while the townspeople were fixing the bridge.
According to Witness 32, the whole town was “upside down” because there were about five thousand government troops there. He said everyone was “mixed up” the whole day — civilians and soldiers running. People were trying to find their families, and eventually gathered with them on their farms. Initially they didn’t take it that seriously, but they ended up being in the bush for a month, until the government forces called and said they could come back. The Witness took a moment to explain that it is not hard for people to forget “[a]fter some time”. He then stated that everyone went back to live in Kamatahun Hassala; nobody returned to live in the towns nearby again.
He went on to explain that, a couple of months later, there was another attack by LURD forces coming from the side of Vahun. Fighting lasted for over three hours, and around 6-7 p.m., the government forces decided to retreat to Popalahun. The Witness stated that he was there with them for almost two months. He estimated that this would have been around July or August 2001.
Next, the Witness described one morning when they were sitting down and saw people running from Kiatahun who said “the rebels took plenty people.” He explained that the reason why they were called “rebels” was because they were government troops who had been killing people. The “rebels” got to Popalahun and captured many people, including some of the Witness’ and his townspeople’s family members. The Witness said they even chased his deputy who had been in Kiatahun at that time, but he had managed to run away. After the people who came from Kiatahun told them these events, the Witness and others decided to walk to Kiatahun to attempt to see some of their family members. However, while they were on their way, they were captured. The Witness clarified that he couldn’t say if it was the same group, but they were soldiers. He said they stayed with the soldiers for some time, and they were taken to Kamatahun via the bush road. The Witness stated that there were many people in Kamatahun, and they were all packed together in the center of town.
Witness 32 explained that the commander came and said “I am Angel Gabriel. These people, we will burn them. I told y’all not to fire [shoot], we will burn them.” Witness 32 stated that there was a big house where more than one hundred women lived, and that was the house they put people inside and burned. He later clarified that the house was close to the town hall. The Witness described what occurred: The rebels went into the house and placed the beds against the walls, poured gasoline inside, put people in the house, and nailed the exits shut before setting fire to the house. He recalled that the people inside were crying until the roof collapsed into the flames. An old man, [FNM-042], who came from a surrounding town, fought hard to get out of the fire, and momentarily escaped, saying “please help me, I want to live, I na die yet” but was pushed back into the burning building and locked in by a soldier. After some time, the fire began to cool, which allowed some people to escape. After that, the Witness saw them take seven women, who were naked, behind the blacksmith’s place. He noted that it was the only house that was standing in town at the time. The Witness was ordered to get some water for cooking, and when he went to do so, he managed to hide himself in the bush and went back to Popalahun. He recalled that they were in exile for less than a year, and people in Monrovia told them to go back to Kamatahun Hassala. The Witness stated that, if you had gone there at the time, you would not believe that people could live there; women and children had been killed and they saw twenty-seven bodies packed into the house. They had checked them, but the bodies were rotten. The Witness noted that there were many bones in the town, which they packed all together. The Witness recalled finding bones tied together in front of the house of a “big man” who used to tie people together and kill them.
The Witness then described one morning when some people from an NGO came, and said they were from a humanitarian organization, and giving their condolences for what had happened. The Witness said they all went together to where the bones had been packed. The people from the NGO took many pictures and spent the whole day there, and when the NGO people were leaving, they suggested that the townspeople bury the bones. The townspeople then buried the bones beside the grave of one of their “big men”.
Witness 32 noted that another group came to visit, and told them that they had come to celebrate the dead. The group said it would make three big sacrifices because some of the people were “Zoes” (traditionalists), some were Christians, and some were Muslims. They returned a week later, and said they were going to build a palava hut in town over a grave with all the bones.
The NGO brought a pastor, an Imam, and “the Zoe” to commemorate the dead. The Witness recalled that the palava hut over the mass grave was the only development they did for them. Later on in the testimony, the Witness explained that the NGO “did not come to investigate” but only came because they heard about Kamatahun Hassala being burnt down. The Witness did not discuss the incident with them. He also did not remember the name of the organization.
Following the narration by Witness 32, the Prosecution asked which side of the road the house where the people were burned was on, when going towards Vahun. The Witness indicated that it was on the left, and now in its place stands a beautiful house that was built by the old man’s sons.
The Defense then turned to questioning the Witness about the incident where people were locked in the house and burned. Witness 32 reiterated that, before the people were locked inside, the commander, Angel Gabriel, gave the order to “put the people in the house and let it burn.” The Witness clarified that he was “right there” when Angel Gabriel gave the order.
The Witness was then asked what was done to the seven naked women, to which he replied he only saw the soldiers carry the women to the house behind the blacksmith’s place, which was their “headquarter” where they were based. When the Defense asked if the Witness went to the house in question after the incident, he replied “no,” and that “[i]t was the very day” he and others left Kamatahun and did not return.
When asked to give an estimate of how many people were placed in the house to be burnt, he indicated that there were many, including children, but he could not estimate how many. The Defense recalled that the Witness had mentioned the incident occurring in July or August, and asked if he could remember the year, to which he replied 2001.
The Prosecutor then asked him if he remembered the words Angel Gabriel used when he locked the house. Witness 32 stated that Angel Gabriel said: “I told y’all not to fire these people, bring them let’s burn them.” He described Angel Gabriel as a slim, not tall, man who spoke Krio and wore a round hat.
The final line of questioning from the Prosecution centered on the interview with the Finnish police. Witness 32 recalled that last year, he was told by people in the village when returning from his garden that some people had come to see him. The villagers told him that the visitors were white people looking for individuals who could share their experiences during the war. They spoke with the Witness’s deputy, [FNM-087], when they came.
The Defense questions Witness 32
Witness 32 reiterated that when white people came, he was not there. He also added that no black people had come to town inquiring about the same issue since the end of the war.
The questioning shifted to the presence of the NGO that had visited the town. Witness 32 stated that he did not remember the name of the organization. The Defense then began to set its focus on the people who created the memorial for the dead. The Witness stated that the memorial was still there and people still visited it regularly. Though he could not remember the exact year, he stated that it has been more than three years since the memorial was built. Witness 32 told the Defense that the people did not interview anyone, nor did they collect any information. The Witness also explained that his town did not experience Ebola.
The Defense then referred to the police summary in order to point out an apparent discrepancy in the dates stated by Witness 32. The Defense drew attention to the fact that Witness 32 had mentioned 2002, but the Witness stated that it must have been a mistake, since he recalled the year as 2001. He also recalled the months to be July or August, because they were harvesting peanuts. The Defense inquired about harvesting time for rice, and the Witness explained that it can be harvested in either July or August, but September is usually when most rice is haversted. The final line of questioning from the Defense focused on the burning of the house and the seven women. The Defense mentioned that Witness 32 had previously stated September 2002 as the month and year that both incidents occurred. Witness 32 replied that they had left Kamatahun Hassala to Kpanhun before going steadily to Kolahun. He explained the discrepancies by the fact that it had been more than ten years since the incidents occurred, and he did not expect anyone to ask him questions. Witness 32 clarified his statement to the Finnish Police regarding the rice and harvest time. He explained that they had not been living in Kamatahun Hassala. They were in Popalahun during that period. He further explained that the rice is usually ripening, and September is when the rice is usually dry and ready to be harvested.
The Prosecution asked one final question before the testimony ended, and Witness 32 said that he could not recall where Angel Gabriel was when the women were taken behind the blacksmith’s house.
Witness 33 is heard
(Finnish Witness ID: Civilian 14)
The Prosecution questions Witness 33
The Witness began his testimony by recalling what happened in Kamatahun Hassala during the war. Witness 33 explained that he was in Kamatahun Hassala and recalled that LURD forces came and attacked government troops. The Witness said that he and the townspeople ran into the bush and eventually arrived at a village named Selahun. As the government troops went back to Kamatahun Hassala, one of the government commanders, “No Monkey”, went into the bush and brought the Witness along with others to the other commanders. The Witness stated that the other commanders were named [FNM-161], Zigzag Marzah, and [FNM-122]. He noted that there were other commanders, but he couldn’t remember their names. The Witness stated that this occurred around the time when the RUF came from Sierra Leone to help the government troops; Sam Bokarie (Mosquito) and Angel Gabriel were with them. The Witness recalled that they brought people from nearby villages to Kamatahun Hassala, and that Angel Gabriel took the Witness’s “sister”, [FNM-162], as his wife.
The Witness remembered an instance when the soldiers gathered people in front of the town hall. He recalled that Angel Gabriel gave orders to the other soldiers to make people go inside a house, and to set it ablaze. He noted that he used to wash their dishes, and that he was also supposed to be inside the house which was set ablaze, but his friend, [FNM-162], saved him from going inside. Later in his testimony, he specified that this occurred around the dry season, between 2000 and 2001.
After two days, the soldiers captured some women and took them by the blacksmith shop and raped them. The Witness later confirmed that he himself saw the soldiers take women behind the blacksmith store, and that Angel Gabriel gave the order. He also noted that he did not see the women get killed, but he saw their bodies later. He further elaborated that soldiers said they would rape the women even before they took them behind the blacksmith shop. The Witness clarified that the women were taken to another building behind the blacksmith shop, which was located on the left side of the road, coming from Vahun, and on the right side of the road, coming from Kolahun.
Two days after the events at the blacksmith store, the LURD forces came back, and the townspeople escaped to the bush once again and went to Yandohun. The Witness stated that Angel Gabriel killed [FNM-162] in the house they shared in Yandohun. He further clarified that [FNM-162] was Angel Gabriel’s “wife”, and that Angel Gabriel murdered [FNM-162] with a knife, but the Witness did not know the reason as to why Angel Gabriel had killed her. The Witness stated that he got hurt while escaping from Yandohun. He recalled that he escaped to a LURD occupied area, where he remained until the end of the war. According to him, after the war had finished, he returned to Kamatahun Hassala.
The Prosecution asked some clarifying questions. The Witness explained that he and his friend [FNM-162] did not have the same parents, but he had called her his sister because they both spoke the same language and both were Gbandi. He then stated that there were many commanders at the town hall, but that Angel Gabriel gave the order to set the house on fire. The Witness confirmed he had heard Gabriel himself. The Witness noted that Angel Gabriel usually said “I am next to God” as he was giving orders. The Witness did not know exactly how many people were inside the house, as “[s]ometimes you can be looking, because of the fear, you remove your face from there.”; however, he estimated that there were around fifty people. Later in his testimony, he also specified that the house was located opposite the town hall, near a mosque, and that the house was painted yellow. The Prosecution then asked the Witness about his escape to Yandohun. He explained that he fled together with the commanders and [FNM-162] to Yandohun, and that he helped them around the house.
The Prosecution asked the Witness how the Finnish police had contacted him. The Witness explained that the Town Chief knew who in town had been there until the war ended, which was how the Finnish police found him and others.
Finally, the Prosecution asked the Witness how Angel Gabriel spoke. The Witness explained that Angel Gabriel spoke Krio, and added that “it was the sound of the gun they used to talk to us.”
The Defense questions Witness 33
The Defense began its line of questioning by asking the Witness to identify which group of people first came to town to enquire about the war. The Witness explained that the Town Chief told them that a group of white people came to the village to ask questions about the war. The Defense questioned the Witness how long it took between the first contact and the interview. The Witness recalled that it was last year but couldn’t remember when specifically. The Defense informed the Witness that, according to the summary, he was interviewed on 28 November 2019.
The Defense recalled that the Witness said he had fled Kamatahun Hassala and saw women taken behind the blacksmith’s store. The Witness clarified that this happened when they left from Selahun and arrived at Kamatahun Hassala. Moreover, the Witness confirmed that he was in Kamatahun Hassala when the house was set ablaze and when the soldiers took the women behind the blacksmith’s store. However, the Witness stated that he was not there when the rest of the town was burned, but he heard it happened. The Witness stated that they were the first to come back to Kamatahun Hassala after the ceasefire. The Defense pointed out that, in the Police report, the Witness stated that the town was burned down a few days after the women were killed in the house. The Defense asked whether there was a memorial built in Kamatahun Hassala, and the Witness explained that there was a palava hut built and put in place. He noted that he helped build the palava hut, but could not recall the exact date when it was built, nor did he know who the people that built the memorial were. He did not speak with them, but his brothers interacted with them.
Finally, the Defense asked whether the Witness was shown pictures during the police interview and when during the interview this was done. The Witness stated that they showed him many pictures after the interview had been going on for a while, and that they continued talking after he had seen the photos.
The hearing concluded and will resume in Monrovia on Tuesday, 23 March 2021.