23/03/21 [Liberia] Day 20: The Hearing of Witnesses 34 and 35

The twentieth day of public hearings resumed on March 23 2021 in Liberia.

Witness 34 is heard

(Finnish Witness ID: Civilian 22)

The Prosecution questions Witness 34

Witness 34 testified about attacks in Kamatahun Hassala. The Witness had been in Nyewoihun, a village close to the Sierra Leone border, when he returned to the nearby town of Kamatahun Hassala. During the second war, while Charles Taylor was already president, several armed groups were active in Kamatahun Hassala, including Charles Taylor’s soldiers and rebels as well as the RUF. LURD forces would frequently attack Kamatahun Hassala and then retreat. Many senior commanders of the RUF and Charles Taylor forces were present in the town, including “5050,” [FNM-161], and Zigzag Marzah. Because Kamatahun Hassala was a large town with many people, the commanders divided it among themselves and oversaw their own groups. They would leave Kamatahun Hassala for various combat missions and then return, often bringing captured civilians back with them. 

The Witness recalled a day in which the forces brought a group of about thirty people to Kamatahun Hassala; they came from towns like Kpengbelahun, Kimbalahun, and Kiatahun. The captors brought the group into a house. Witness 34 heard a commander calling himself “Angel Gabriel” order the house to be burned down. The Witness later elaborated that he heard Angel Gabriel say in Krio, “you put the house on fire.” The Witness saw the house set on fire. 

Witness 34 later clarified that he had witnessed two fires. In the first one, “big people” were burned alive. In a second, also ordered by Angel Gabriel, about 20 to 25 “little children” were put in a cook shop and burned by Angel Gabriel and his group. He estimated the children were ten years old and younger. 

The Witness also recalled that on that day, Angel Gabriel ordered his soldiers to carry a group of seven women to a blacksmith’s kitchen. They had been tied up. Witness 34 later stated he remembered Angel Gabriel saying, “carry these women and do whatever you want to do to them” and then followed the soldiers to the kitchen. Witness 34 did not go into the kitchen; he was hiding. Still, he could hear the women crying; he does not remember for how long. He saw their bodies the next day and later helped bury them. Some had knife marks and others had broken bones, as if they were beaten to death.

When pressed, the Witness stated firmly that he heard and saw these events himself. He also noted that the kitchen was on the right if one was going towards Vahun. Witness 34 noted that, after the war, people came to the town and buried the bones of those who died in the fires. A palava hut, which they also called “skeleton hut”, was built on the site. The Witness later stated that the hut is on the left if one was entering Kamatahun Hassala from Kolahun. 

After that day, the Witness traveled to Hembeh, Lofa County with a group of eight, where he stayed until disarmament. When he returned to Kamatahun Hassala, the bush had taken over the town. Every day, while cutting the grass, the people would discover dead bodies, which they would bury. The Witness stated that most people were killed in houses: after the war, they saw the bones and gathered them. Some people took pictures of the bones. 

Witness 34 believed these events occurred in 2001. He recalled that they were planting at the time, which they do around April and May. He acknowledged that he did not know the year himself, but had heard it from others in town, where it appeared to be common knowledge. 

After returning to Kamatahun Hassala, the Witness stated that the remaining townspeople and some people from Monrovia made a sacrifice. He later clarified that there were multiple sacrifices. The first was done only by people from Kamatahun Hassala and had no affiliation with NGOs or the Liberian government. Some families conducted individual sacrifices. In 2004, an NGO came to the town to help build the palava hut and they made a sacrifice again. The Witness could not remember the name of the NGO. He also stated that one of his uncles, [FNM-090], is a journalist, and came to film the event. 

The Witness stated that he had spoken about the 2001 events with friends. He confirmed that no one associated with the government or other organizations except the white people who came to Kamatahun Hassala had ever come to ask him about the events.

The Defense questions Witness 34

The Defense began its line of questioning by asking about the women killed in the blacksmith’s kitchen. The Defense noted that the Witness had told police he had been alone and he buried the women the next day. The Witness could not recall the exact date they were buried but stated that it was a few days after they had died, the bodies were almost rotten; he also stated that he had not been alone, and that multiple people helped bury the bodies. Additionally, Witness 34 noted that he had seen Angel Gabriel carrying one crying woman into the house. The Witness reiterated that he, himself, had not entered the house. 

The Witness then stated that Angel Gabriel was the common name used in Kamatahun Hassala and if he used a different name, the Witness had not heard it. He could not confirm how often Angel Gabriel was in the village because he would come and go. The Witness recalled that Angel Gabriel spent three months in Kamatahun Hassala after the war intensified. After Angel Gabriel left again, he could not remember seeing him until the war was over. 

Turning to the palava hut, the Witness confirmed that there is a memorial plaque on it. As he cannot read, he did not know what it said, when it was put up, or who brought it. He did remember that two individuals who headed the NGO, [FNM-091] and [FNM-092], were present. The Witness remembered they told the citizens of Kamatahun Hassala to “forget all that has happened, let’s work together.” The Witness did not talk to them about the events but recalled that [FNM-088] and [FNM-089] spoke on the village’s behalf. 

The Defense then questioned Witness 34 about his contact with Finnish Police, who the Witness referred to as white people. The Witness confirmed he was not aware if there was any arrangement with the police about when they would be in the village. Other townspeople knew the Witness had stayed in Kamatahun Hassala during the war, so they found him and told him not to go to his farm that day as some people wanted to talk to him. The Witness did not know if the Finnish Police spoke with [FNM-088] or [FNM-089] but remembered that [FNM-091] spoke with them. He confirmed that he spoke with [FNM-078], but he did not know [Employee 1]. He remembered [FNM-078] was brought to translate for the Finnish Police because the Witness does not speak English. 

Witness 35 is heard

(Finnish Witness ID: Civilian 40)

The Prosecution questions Witness 35

Witness 35, a villager from Kamatahun Hassala, described a time when soldiers attacked his hometown and people were captured. He said that he was in Kamatahun during the war, where Charles Taylor’s troops were also staying. One day, LURD forces came and attacked the town. The government troops left, and LURD captured him and took him to Kpokulahun. While in Kpokulahun, government troops attacked the LURD forces, who fled. The Witness was then brought back to Kamatahun. 

On the way back to Kamatahun, the Witness met a Sierra Leonean man who called himself “Angel Gabriel.” Witness 35 later testified that Angel Gabriel spoke Krio. Angel Gabriel ordered for a man to be killed and said that hewould eat the man’s heart. Witness 35 stated later that the man was a civilian. He saw Angel Gabriel’s bodyguard cut the man’s throat; the man was butchered, with his heart removed. The Witness clarified that he did not see Angel Gabriel eat the heart.

Next, Angel Gabriel put people in a house in the center of Kamatahun and said, “I am angel Gabriel, I am next to god. I am going to burn these people.” Witness 35 was unsure exactly how many people were in the house, but testified that there were more than 10. Angel Gabriel gave the order to burn the house and told soldiers to surround the house until it burned. The Witness said that the house was on the right side of the road when coming from Vahun, near the mosque and the town hall.

After the house burned, seven women were brought to Angel Gabriel, who ordered that they should be tied up. The Witness saw the women, who were stripped, being taken to a kitchen around the blacksmith area. The Witness described the kitchen as a hut that had two rooms where people used to sleep, located on the right side of the road when coming from Vahun. The Witness was sent to fetch water and did not see whether Angel Gabriel followed the women. The Witness said that the women were raped by many soldiers. The Witness heard the women crying and said that he saw the next day that the women were dead. When the Prosecution asked about specific injuries on the women and how they were killed, the Witness hesitated. He said that where women are raped and killed, one “shouldn’t go too deep in that one.” The Witness eventually noted that some of the wounds on the dead women looked like knife wounds, and some wounds looked like they had been beaten with sticks. He explained that it was the commander who ordered the women to be taken to the kitchen.

The next morning, the Witness was made to put ammunition on his head and the group proceeded to Vahun. The Witness said that the soldiers used to burn houses one by one, or at times would burn two houses at a time. They would not burn all the houses at once. Due to the way the soldiers were killing people, the Witness was afraid and hid. In response to questioning, the Witness clarified that he saw many other people being killed. For those who were killed, there was no burial and the bodies would stay there and rot. The Witness also explained that these events occurred between 2001 and 2002, specifically noting that the people burned in the house were killed in 2001, during the dry season. 

Finally, the Witness was asked about his experience talking to the Finish police about the incident. The Witness remembered seeing white people but did not know if they were police. He explained that he was in Kamatahun when two men came. One was [FNM-078], and the Witness could not remember the name of the other man. The men asked for the town chief, who was away, so they were brought to the deputy town chief instead. The men explained to the deputy town chief that there were white people coming to ask about the villagers’ experiences during the war. The Witness was told about this by the deputy town chief, but the Witness did not speak with the men before they left. [FNM-078] then came back with white people, which was when the Witness was introduced to him. The Witness explained that the white people asked about the villagers’ experiences and that several including himself told them what happened. The villagers also showed them the places where the soldiers raped and burned people. Over a year later, [FNM-078] came to the town and said that white people wanted to talk to the villagers. At the time, the Witness was in Sierra Leone. Upon receiving the message from the deputy town chief, Witness 35 came back.

The Defense questions Witness 35

The Defense began by clarifying that the Witness saw Angel Gabriel in Kamatahun, the Witness’ home, and not on his way to Kamatahun, as previously stated in the testimony. The Witness recalled a memorial area in his hometown where they built the palava hut, but could not remember who brought it there or when. He explained that it was built because of the people that died, so that the villagers can remember. The men in charge of the palava hut project were [FNM-088] and [FNM-089]. When asked whether the white people interviewed [FNM-088] and [FNM-089], Witness 35 explained that they were not in Kamatahun when the incident took place and so they were not interviewed. 

Witness 35 also recalled the identities of other soldiers present along with Angel Gabriel, including [FNM-161], Zigzag Marzah, Mosquito, and a man from Sierra Leone called Cobra. The Defense asked several times if anyone else other than Angel Gabriel ordered the soldiers to burn houses. The Witness answered that soldiers were “wicked” and followed these orders immediately; he also clarified that when he (Witness 35) was there, it was Angel Gabriel gave the orders. He did not know if someone else gave orders at other times. 

The Defense then asked the Witness about his prior statement to the Finnish police that Zigzag Marzah had burned people in houses that same year. The Witness explained that he only talked about Angel Gabriel and then was asked about these other people. After the Defense attempted to clarify if Zigzag Marzah burned people, the Witness clarified that he heard about Zigzag Marzah burning people but did not see it himself; he felt he should talk about what he saw. The Witness further explained that when he returned home, the soldiers had burned all the houses in Kamatahun and there was only one kitchen and the blacksmith place left. Defense counsel continued to probe Witness 35 about his police interview, asking why he only talked about Angel Gabriel and not about other people. The Witness responded that he was told to talk only about what he saw, not what he did not see.

When asked how long Angel Gabriel stayed in Kamatahun, the Witness estimated that he and Angel Gabriel were in the town at the same time for a week. The Defense noted that in the police report the Witness had said they overlapped there for two weeks. The Witness said that there might have been a mistake in the report. He went on to explain that when the soldiers put ammo on his and other villagers’ heads, they had to leave other people in the town. He then went into hiding. Back in Kamatahun, soldiers stayed on and continued to do “many bad things.” 

In response to a question from the Defense as to whether the Witness saw anyone other than Angel Gabriel “doing bad things”, the Witness said the man was the commander, and that if anyone was doing bad things it was because he gave the order for them to do it. The Witness reiterated that he could not speak to what happened or who gave orders after he left the town. 

Returning to Witness 35’s account of a civilian being ordered to be killed by a Sierra Leonean commander, the Defense asked if the man was a LURD soldier. The Witness explained repeatedly that he had not said it was a LURD soldier in his testimony. The Defense clarified that he was referring to the interview with the Finnish police, to which the Witness stated that he had not said anything about LURD soldiers to the Finnish police. Defense counsel repeated that Witness 35 had told the police that Angel Gabriel ordered the killing of a LURD soldier and his men then brought him the LURD soldier’s heart to eat. Witness 35 denied saying these things. 

The Court then played a recording from Witness 35’s police interview in which the Witness mentions Angel Gabriel and states that “they” captured a LURD forces soldier. In the recording, he further stated that when they captured LURD soldiers, they took off the heart; Angel Gabriel said he would eat it. After the recording was played, the Witness asked to explain. He said that when the soldiers would capture civilians, they would call them LURD soldiers because that is who they killed. The Witness stated that this was why he referred to LURD soldiers in the recording. The Defense continued asking whether the man was a soldier or civilian, to which Witness 35 reiterated that this is what they called the victim. Asked why he did not tell the Finnish police that the man was a civilian, the Witness answered it was Charles Taylor’s soldiers who said the man was a civilian.

The Witness also said that he left town after about ten houses were burnt, and after he left the soldiers burned the whole town down. He reminded the Court that many people like him had left town after ammo was put on their heads. The Defense pressed the Witness on whether he was present when Angel Gabriel gave the order for the town to be burnt. Witness 35 said about the Defense, “I think he just wants me to lie.” The Court stepped in, and asked the Witness if he heard with his own ears Angel Gabriel giving the order for Kamatahun to be burned down. The Witness said he did and stated that he heard this in 2001. When asked what happened after the order was given, the Witness responded that he was not there so he did not know. He explained that at first, the soldiers had burned houses bit by bit. But when the soldiers left, they did not want LURD forces to take the place and make it a base, so they burned everything.

The testimony ended for the day. The hearing will resume on the 26th of March 2021.

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