By Mae Azango Senior Justice Correspondent with New Narratives
MONROVIA, Liberia – A third defense witness took the stand on Tuesday in the ongoing war crimes trial of Gibril Massaquoi to claim that Hassan Bility, the human rights advocate whose work gathering evidence has been instrumental in the trials of a dozen accused war criminals in international courts, had asked him to tell lies that would implicate Alieu Kosiah who was convicted of war crimes in Switzerland in June.
The witness, codenamed L3 to protect him from retaliation, undermined his own testimony by insisting Bility made the request in May this year, a month after trial of Kosiah had ended.
Kosiah, a former commander of the Ulimo rebel group, was prosecuted and convicted of war crimes committed in Liberia by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court. The trial ran over two periods because of Covid. It began in December 2020 and ended in early April, 2021.
But L3 insisted to the Finnish court, conducting hearings at a secret location in Monrovia, that Bility had made the request.
“We met at a funeral in Black Gina yard and we talked for five minutes, and he told me he had a job for me to do,” said L3. “He told me to work for him and testify against three persons – Alieu Kosiah, Issa Kabbah and Yousuf Massaquoi – but when I told him I did not know the two men Kabbah and Massaquoi, he said he was going to tell me what to say and he gave me $US20. Bility promised that if I testify against the people he asked me to, he was going to pay me $20,000 and make my family and I leave Liberia.”
Mr. Massaquoi is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including committing and inciting the murders of civilians and enemy fighters, aggravated rapes, aggravated war crimes, and aggravated violations of human rights in Liberia. He is standing trial in Tampere, Finland where he was living under an agreement with the Special Court for Sierra Leone for which he was an informant.
Prosecutor Tom Laitinin presented a summary of an interview L3 did with Finnish police investigating the case where L3 said the alleged conversation with Bility about “a contract” took place in 2015 and not 2021.
L3 replied, “Sometimes during discussion you are not able to explain everything.”
Mr. Laitinin pointed out that in the police interview L3 did not mention anything about Bility promising to pay him $20,000.
L3 said Bility did not give him details about the testimonies he wanted him to provide against Kosiah and others. Unhappy with the encounter, L3 said he told a fellow witness about it. On Friday that witness made his own claims in court about Bility offering him bribes. L3 said the fellow witness had connected him to Finnish investigators.
L3, who told the court he fought separately for ULIMO and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, known by the acronym LURD, also confirmed speaking to Alan White, a former chief investigator for the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Two earlier witnesses have said they were also called by Dr. White. The actions of the former investigator may come under scrutiny if Mr. Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean former commander of the Revolutionary United Front rebel group, is found to have committed the crimes of which he is accused. Witnesses say the crimes took place in Liberia in June to August 2003 while Mr. Massaquoi was supposedly in a Sierra Leone safe house under witness protection overseen by Dr. White while he was informing on former combatants including Liberian President Charles Taylor.
“I talked with White constantly on the phone,” L3 told the court. “I was connected to him by my friend. I spoke with Dr. White on April 10, 2021 in Ganta, Nimba County, when he called on my colleague’s phone and he (colleague) put me on with him. I do not know what they talked but I guess it was about this same issue.”
“When he called, I told him I was in a meeting and could not talk but he should discuss it with my colleague and he was going to relay it to me. My colleague told me Mr. White told him to carry me to talk with some people.”
The trial continues tomorrow with three Sierra Leonean witnesses set to appear. Prosecution and defense teams will be seeking to probe the question of exactly where Mr. Massaquoi was during the period of June to August 2003 when witnesses say he committed atrocities in Liberia.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.