By Lennart Dodoo, with New Narratives
MONROVIA, Liberia – Prosecutors stepped up their case against former RUF commander Gibril Massaquoi for war crimes on Wednesday putting a former bodyguard of Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Forces (RUF), on the stand who told the Finnish Court that RUF special fighters were sent into Liberia from 2000 to 2001 for a “diplomatic mission”. Massaquoi, he said, was one of them.
The prosecution witness, a Sierra Leonean codenamed Civilian 09 by the court to protect his identity, said he it was his job to receive RUF guests coming into Monrovia. He would receive them and transport them to their guest house in Congo Town.
The RUF fought a failed 11-year rebellion in Sierra Leone, starting in 1991 and ending in 2002. The group was heavily supported by former Liberian President Charles Taylor in the 11-year-long Sierra Leone Civil War.
The witness also named RUF fighters “Mosquito”, “Sannoh”, Morris Kalon, Augustine Blamo, Ernest McCauley, Ibrahim Bah, “Sankara”, Issa Sesay and others who he said were all RUF fighters brought into Liberia to work for former President Charles Taylor.
The witness told the Finnish Judges that most of the RUF activities in Liberia happened between 2000 to 2001. He said the RUF activities were mostly in Lofa County on the Liberian and Guinean border where RUF fighters were combatting rebels from LURD, another rebel faction.
Massaquoi stands accused of ordering civilians, including children, to be locked into two buildings which were burnt to the ground in the northern village of Kamatahun Hassala in Lofa County.
At least seven women were raped and murdered in the same village, while other locals were killed, their bodies cut up and “made into food which Massaquoi also ate,” according to the indictment. The Finnish judges visited all the alleged crime scenes in Lofa County along with defense and prosecution lawyers.
The 4,000-page evidence dossier details mass murders and rapes in Lofa County and the capital Monrovia and accuses Massaquoi of enslavement and using child soldiers.
The crimes “deliberately and systematically” violated international humanitarian law, and inflicted “irreparable emotional suffering and damage” on the families of his many victims, the indictment states.
Massaquoi, 51, is currently on trial in Finland for committing and inciting the murders of civilians and enemy fighters, rape and other human rights violations during the second Liberian civil war in the northern part of Liberia bordering Sierra Leone.
Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean national, has lived in Finland since 2008 when he was granted residency in exchange for devastating testimony that he gave to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Experts say Massaquoi’s testimony was instrumental in the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and other leaders of the Sierra Leone civil war. Massquoi was arrested in Finland in March last year after Swiss victims’ advocates Civitas Maxima working with Global Justice Research Project, alerted prosecutors to Massaquoi’s alleged crimes in Liberia.
Massaquoi has denied all the allegations levelled against him.
Wednesday’s witness said the RUF supplied President Taylor with weapons.
All previous witnesses told the court they knew Gibril Massaquoi as “Angel Gabriel” during the war. This witness said he was aware that Massaquoi had an alias but he could not remember it.
The witness said he was not aware of Massaquoi’s involvement with the war in Monrovia. However, during cross-examination he said the RUF rebels that were in Monrovia were occasionally called upon to intervene whenever Charles Taylor fighters had difficulties in Monrovia and its environs.
Civilian 09 said that while in Monrovia, Benjamin Yeaten, who according to him, served as a liaison between the Charles Taylor government and the RUF rebels, would occasionally take them to White Flower, the residence of ex-president Taylor where they held discussions.
Benjamin Yeaten, widely known by his old radio call sign “50”, is a Liberian militia leader and mercenary, who served as the Armed Forces of Liberia’s deputy commander and director of the Special Security Service during the presidency of Charles Taylor. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Two previous witnesses testified that Yeaten intervened to save the lives of civilians who were held captive by Angel Gabriel and his men at Waterside where many people were tortured, raped and executed.
On Tuesday, a witness told the Court that while he and others were being tortured by Angel Gabriel and his men at the Waterside bridge, a soldier came in a pickup truck came to the scene and began to ask the soldiers why there were holding civilians captive and torturing them. “He said, ‘This is not the reason I brought you here. I brought you here to help me, not to kill innocent people.’”
The witness said this Liberian soldier seemed to be higher in rank was being referred to as “Chief 50” or “General 50”.
The trial continues next week.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.