Massaquoi hearings in Liberia finish, to renew in Finland

Defence and prosecution lawyers in Gibril Massaquoi’s war crimes trial have expressed optimism of winning the case as the second Liberia hearings came to an end on Friday.

Chief Defence Lawyer, Kaarle Gummerus, told New Narratives partner journalists made his case forcefully saying he spoke to about 75 people in Karmatahun Lofa County, where Massaquoi is alleged to have committed war crimes under the nom de guerre “Angel Gabriel”.

Mr Gummerus said none of the witnesses said they knew Massaquoi or had heard of anyone with his nickname.

Karmatahun is where Mr Massaquoi is accused of committing massacres, including locking women and children in buildings and burning them alive.

Mr Gummerus became furious and threatened to walk out of the interview when New Narratives asked him about inconsistencies in the testimonies of defence witnesses.

“We have heard from the last witness who said he interviewed about 75 witnesses who spoke about the Karmatahun Hasala attack in 2001 and nobody mentioned Gibril Massaquoi or Angel Gabriel in any of the attacks in Lofa. In my point that is very important information,” he said.

Chief Prosecutor Tom Laitinen said the hearings in Liberia had been a success before it was critical to finding the truth in the case that all of the witnesses in Liberia were heard.

Four weeks of deliberations in this second period in Liberia has come to an end.

The court has heard from 102 witnesses in the two rounds of hearings conducted in a hidden location in Monrovia.

The last witness appearing before the Finnish court was called by the defence lawyer. He said he worked as an information officer in the government of Charles Taylor, but he said was chased by then Defence Minister Daniel Chea because of a newspaper article.

“The Defence Minister Daniel Chea, one afternoon indicted my kinsman in Lofa. I reacted in the Inquire newspaper, so the defence minister sent to search for me, but when I got the news I escaped to Sierra Leone. And this was around 2001,” the witness said.

The witness said, while in Gweadu, near Liberia, he interviewed some of his kinsmen who fled the Lofa attack and they told him of the massacre in Lofa, which included the burning of people in Karmatahun.

“These people told me that one ‘Zigzag Massa’, ‘Mosquito’ and their men, placed a large group of people in a house and set it ablaze and burned them,” the witness told the court. “I met a young man who was forced to join the NPFL [Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia], but saw both his father and mother’s bodies among the massacre victims in Karmatahun. They also told me other incidents, in a town called Nematahun, in which a baby was placed in a mortar and pounded like pounded cassava. They told me the number of people killed in Karmatahun were many.”

When asked by the Defence lawyer who wanted to know if any Massaquoi was among the group, he said:

“I did not hear anything about Massaquoi or ‘Angel Gabriel’, only Zigzag Massa and Mosquito names were mentioned. I was told NPFL and RUF were in Lofa but they were in Foya, far from where I was. I heard about NPFL and LURD [a rebel group] but I did not get any news about RUF, even though they were there but I did not get any news about them.”

When asked for copies of his writings, the witness said he had given them to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone investigations. He also said other notes were destroyed be a fire in the house where he lives.

The trial will resume in Tampere, Finland on October 26.

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

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