By Mae Azango New Narratives & FPA Justice correspondent
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – The Finnish court trying former Revolutionary United Front commander Gibril Massaquoi for war crimes allegedly committed in Liberia heard from a defense witness on Friday who had testified against former Liberian president Charles Taylor in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Codenamed “witness 7” the former RUF commander echoed the testimony of previous witnesses testifying to the court in Freetown that Massaquoi could not have been in Liberia when dozens of Liberian witnesses said he committed atrocities.
Like previous witnesses, “7” denied knowing Massaquoi had ever fought in Liberia and said the witnesses in Liberia who accused Massaquoi of atrocities including murder, rape and torture, were lying against an innocent man.
“When I heard that Massaquoi was in jail because he is accused of fighting and killing in Liberia, I cried, because he never fought any war in Liberia but he only went for peace talks with Taylor in 2000,” he said.
Witness 7 was the latest of 19 witnesses who will testify on Massaquoi’s behalf in the Sierra Leone sessions of the trial. Massaquoi’s defense team is trying to establish doubt about the testimonies of dozens of witnesses in Liberia who said Massaquoi in his alias of “Angel Gabriel” committed atrocities in Lofa County and in the Waterside area of Monrovia, Liberia. The defense contends Massaquoi was under witness protection in Freetown when the witnesses said he committed crimes in Liberia and could not have traveled to Liberia. Defense witnesses have also suggested that there was another fighter in Liberia at the time with the name “Angel Gabriel” who may have committed the crimes.
Prosecutors challenged the witness’s testimony saying he had told the Special Court for Sierra Leone a different story from that he was telling the Finnish court.
Reading from his statement in The Hague, prosecutors cited a passage where he said he witnesses a vehicle filled with ammunition leave former President Taylors’s house and go to the Airfield in Monrovia. He said ammunition was put onboard a chopper and taken to Lofa as supply for the RUF. Witness 7 told the Finnish Court he could not remember that testimony or those events.
A portion of The Hague testimony read: “Witness told the court that he saw Charles Taylor giving US 10,000 dollars to Sam Burkarie, also known as General Mosquito, and the witness saw Mosquito counting the money.”
Looking nervous Witness 7 said, “It has been long, I cannot remember saying anything like that.”
“7” admitted going to Liberia to clear a supply route in Lofa County as soldier also said the previous day, and said the RUF pushed LURD rebels as far as the Guinea border.
“I was the brigade commander, and I went to Foya, Kolahun and Voinjama because the road was blocked by LURD forces,” he said. “I carried men with me and Massaquoi was not part of us because he was not in Liberia.”
Code 7, who said RUF fighters were known as the Cobra Unit by the Liberian government, denied that RUF fighters killed any civilians in Lofa. Dozens of witnesses in the Liberian section of the trial in March had detailed numerous atrocities committed by RUF forces in Lofa County under the command of “Angel Gabriel” including the burning to death of dozens of children.
Witness 7 said he had only witnessed a Liberian army commander known as “Zig-Zag Massa” committing atrocities.
“I saw Zig-zar Massa killing human beings, drying their bodies and eating them. I was afraid and stayed far away from him, while I was in Liberia,” he said.
The man also told the court he was testifying in fear for his security because he had suffered greatly as a result of testifying against Taylor in the Special Court’s hearings in The Hague. Witness 7 said after he returned everyone knew that he had testified and people came to kill him. He said he fled his home to save his life. The witness showed a mark on his leg, which he said was from the incident. The Finnish judges assured “7” that if he felt threatened in any way, he should let the Finnish police know.
Massaquoi is being prosecuted in Finland for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Liberia. Massaquoi was relocated to Finland in 2005 in return for informing on Taylor and others for the Special Court but when Civitas Maxima, of Switzerland and Liberia-based Global Justice Research Project presented Finnish investigators in the city of Tampere, where he was living, with evidence of his war crimes in Liberia, they charged him in March 2020.
Massaquoi’s trial began on February 1 in Tampere. Rather than transport more than 80 witnesses set to testify to Finland in the midst of a pandemic, the Finnish court traveled to Finland and Sierra Leone.
Another defense witness, codenamed 10, told the court hearing on Friday that he was a radio operator for Massaquoi and said he knew Massaquoi when they were all trained together by the RUF leader Foday Sankoh in 1991. He said Sankoh came to liberate his people.
“In 1999 to 2003, I was operating radio for Massaquoi because he had a satellite to speak with BBC, RFI and VOA. Massaquoi was the public relations officer for the RUF, after Ivory Coast peace in 1996,” he said.
In another section of inquiry “10” said a strange number called him from Switzerland last year and the person told him there was a court trial coming to Sierra Leone.
“I saw a Switzerland number on my phone and when I missed the call so I returned called, the person said there was going to be a court trial and he wanted me to be on his side. When I asked for his name, he did not call his name so I told him if he cannot call his name, I won’t talk so I hung up the phone.”
When Witness 10 gave his phone to a court officer to search for the number, the court could only see his returned call to the number but did not see a call coming to him from the number.
“10” said Massaquoi played a role in the Sierra Leone Special Court as a principle witness because he was the PRO for the RUF and he knew he was in witness protection. However Witness 10 did not say he knew Massaquoi was in witness protection and unable to travel in the crucial period of 2003 when Massaquoi’s alleged crimes in Liberia took place.
“He was at a safe location and police was protecting him in 2007 to 2008. While he was under witness, I met him in 2008 it was the last time I saw him,” he said.
Witness 10 denied knowing Foday Sankoh gave diamonds to Charles Taylor and that Massaquoi received a satellite phone from Charles Taylor. Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity including trading Sierra Leonean diamonds for weapons. He is serving a 50-year-sentence in a UK prison. Sankoh died while awaiting trial.
The trial continues on Saturday.
This story was in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The funder had no say in the story’s content.