MONROVIA, Liberia—With the second phase of the war crimes trial of an accused Sierra Leonean warlord before Finland’s Turku Court of Appeal in Monrovia ending on Friday, defense lawyers look to be getting the results they want, as all their witnesses say their client committed no crimes in Liberia’s second civil war, contrary to what prosecutors have alleged.
By: Varney Dukuly with New Narratives
As it’s been in the past few days, another defense witness told the Court on Thursday that Gibril Massaquoi did come to Liberia for peace talks to end the war in his native country.
“It was in 2002 and 2001,” said “H2,” whose name is withheld to protect him from retributions. “He was negotiating peace. We had the Lomé [Togo] peace agreement; we had the Abuja Peace accord.”
Prosecutors questioned him over a prior statement to Finnish police that he had met Massaquoi in 2001 either in Kolahun or Voinjama. He said he had forgotten.
Massaquoi was a commander for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which aided the government of Charles Taylor, the Liberian President at the time to counter offenses from rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. Prosecutors say Massaquoi committed heinous crimes, including rape and ritual murders in towns and villages in Lofa County, and at Waterside in Monrovia. But the Pirkanmaa District Court of Tampere did not agree with them when it ruled a little over a year ago that they had not proven that Massaquoi committed the crimes “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
H2 claimed it was Joseph “Zizar” Marzah who committed the ritual murders in Lofa. He alleged Marzah arrested civilians, locked them up, and set fire to the buildings they were in.
In an exclusive New Narratives/FrontPage Africa interview a year ago, Marzah denied the allegations and blamed Benjamin Yeaten, then head of the Special Security Service, now Execurtive Protection Service for the alleged murders. Yeaten remains at large. But Hz insists Marzah did the killings.
“Oh yea, he was the man in charge,” said Hz. “I saw that, and we were against him for what he did. Sometimes, I will communicate what I see on the front[lines].”
This phase of the hearings comes to an end with one major concerning issue: the Sierra Leonean did not approve the hearings on its soil, thus forcing the Court to hear nearly all the witnesses in Liberia. Even by that change of plan, some of the witnesses have not shown up. A prosecution witness is hospitalized in Sierra Leone, while a defense witness—a policeman couldn’t come to Liberia, because his superior didn’t approve his travel. This leaves the Court with the only option of admitting the witnesses’ statements to Finnish police into evidence, which will be done in Finland.
The Court leaves Liberia for Finland Friday. The final arguments of this marathon trial will begin January 5th. The verdict is expected later this year.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives as part of its West Africa Justice Reporting Project.