Monrovia—Two more prosecution witnesses have told appeal hearings in Monrovia for Gibril Massaquoi, a former commander of the Revolutionary United Front, RUF of Sierra Leone that he ordered his soldiers to kill and rape seven women.
By Forgbe Emma Kloh, with New Narratives
The witnesses, speaking separately in their native Gbandi language through a translator told the Turku Appeals Court of Finland on Thursday that the alleged acts took place in Kamatahum Town, Lofa County between 2001-2002.
“He said your put this house on fire and they (RUF soldiers) did,” said “Civilian 13” (name given to him by the court to protect him from reprisal). “All those who were in the house could not come out because it was locked. I was afraid and lost hope because of those that were set on fire.”
Civilian 13 alleged seven women had been raped, while some were forced to become sex slaves.
“I cannot tell you how they were killed,” said Civilian 13. “Yes, I remember seeing the corpse of about seven women, after they were killed. I saw their bodies. They were dried when. We dug holes and buried them.”
Asked on direct examination about how he knew that it was Massaquoi who directed the killings and rapes, the witness said: “His soldiers were calling him by the name Angel Gabriel. I heard it myself.”
The controversial nickname is one of the issues at the heart of this appeal, with the other being that he sneaked out of the “safe house” of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and came to Liberia to fight against rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy for forces of the government of Charles Taylor, who was the President at the time. As they did before the district court that acquitted him, Massaquoi’s lawyers are arguing on appeal that it was impossible for him to have been in Liberia at the time of the alleged crimes when he was testifying before the special court against Taylor and some RUF commanders. The court convicted and sentenced Taylor to 50 years for fueling the war in Sierra Leone.
Like other witnesses in the past two weeks, Thursday’s witnesses insisted they were making no mistake about the alleged perpetrator of the crimes, as well as his infamous name.
“They (RUF soldiers) put seven women in another house, and they raped them,” said “Civilian 14,” as he corroborated the testimony of Civilian 13. “All the civilians that were in the town were told to go in the center of the town. He gave an order and they put them in the house. He ordered tput the house on fire, after that.”
The man claimed Massaquoi’s wife helped to save his life.
“The thing that blessed me, Angel Gabriel wife took my hand, and I was standing.”
But he claimed Massaquoi also killed the woman out of anger.
“He killed her with the knife,” said Civilian 13. “After that, it made me afraid, and I decided to escape.”
The witness told prosecutors on direct examination that he didn’t know what had caused Massaquoi’s alleged anger.
The witness also gave his account of how the seven women mentioned by Thursday’s first witness were killed.
“They killed the women after they were raped,” said Civilian 13. “He (Massaquoi) was the same person who gave the order. He really never used to do something by himself, but he was boastful to say it….. he stated that your carry them and have them and kill them.”
“Civilian 16,” the third witness, corroborated the two witnesses’ testimonies. He claimed Massaquoi had ordered his soldiers to gather all civilians from different villages in Kamatahum Town to speak to them.
“He said I am Gibril Massaquoi,” the witness said of Massaquoi. “My fighting name is Angel Gabriel. I told you not to fire gun in Kiatahum. These people, we are going to burn them because it is their children that are bringing the war.”
The witness, sounding in a shaky voice, claimed after that encounter, the civilians were killed.
“They put the people in the house. The sleeping beds were more than twenty. They spread gas inside and they put all the people…. children, adults, women and everyone including some traditional people and some blacksmith and locked the door and lighted the house on fire.”
“As the house started burning, we heard the people crying in their various tribes,” said Civilian 16.
Unlike the two other witnesses before him, Civilian 16 said he didn’t see ordering rapes.
But one thing that was consistent in the testimonies of all three witnesses is that they told the Court that Massaquoi gave all his orders in Krio, a Sierra Leonean English.
The hearings continue on Friday, with additional three witnesses expected to take the stand. But the Court will only allow the media and public to hear the testimonies of two of the witnesses.
The coverage of the appeal of Massaquoi’s acquittal is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.