Witnesses in the ongoing trial of Gibril Massaquoi for war crimes fleshed out the charge of rape in Tuesday’s hearings. Two witnesses told the Finnish court that ‘Angel Gabriel’, as they said he called himself, took women as hostages in a room in the Waterside area of Monrovia and referred to them as “his women”.
Women who were not selected for rape were killed with a message to God – “Tell Him, I, Angel Gabriel, sent you,” a witness told the four-judge panel on Tuesday.
Mr Massaquoi, a former top commander of the Sierra Leonean ex-rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), is on trial in the European country of Finland where he had been granted asylum, for war crimes and crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed in Liberia.
In an unusual step, the presiding judge decided the court of 12 people would travel to Liberia and Sierra Leone to hear from more than 80 witnesses rather than making the witnesses travel to Finland.
Mr Massaquoi, who had played a leading role in the rebellion in Sierra Leone, joined the Liberian civil war because of the RUF’s connection to former Liberian President Charles Taylor whose close ally was Foday Sankor, the founder and leader of the RUF.
Mr Massaquoi served as a special aide to Mr Sankor and was present at almost all high-level meetings involving the RUF.
This week marks the second week since the Finnish Court moved to Liberia to hear the testimonies of eyewitnesses and victims of Mr Massquoi’s alleged war atrocities.
Three witnesses appeared on Tuesday – one a rape victim. Journalists were not allowed to hear her testimony. She was designated a “protected witness” because of the stigma attached to rape.
In response to questions from New Narratives, the chief investigator in the case, Thomas Elfgren, would not confirm whether she accused Mr Massaquoi of rape or ordering the rape but pointed to the indictment which charges him with both of having committed rapes as well as allowing his subordinates to commit rapes.
The court ruled that witnesses’ identities are to be protected because of credible fears of intimidation or retaliation. The location of the trial has been kept secret for the same reason.
Tuesday’s first witness bears a scar on her right leg that she said gives her a vivid memory of the incident at Waterside under the command of ‘Angel Gabriel”.
The witness told the court it was in early 2001 when she had gone to the commercial area of Waterside, downtown Monrovia, to buy goods from people looting a store. Previous witnesses have testified about this same event.
While a group of people stood before the store to buy goods, shooting began – causing everyone to run helter-skelter, but the soldiers who were wearing Liberian army camouflage with Sierra Leonean accents ran after them. “Plenty people died. People died in front of the store,” she said.
Several of the people were caught, she said. Their arms were tied tightly at their backs and they were dragged to the Waterside bridge – the old bridge as it used to be called.
There they were asked to look into the sun and that was when ‘Angel Gabriel’ arrived. The soldiers told ‘Angel Gabriel’ they were “enemies”.
According to the witness, ‘Angel Gabriel’ called her an enemy and ordered her execution – she along with a brother. They were being killed in groups of six, she said.
The witness told the court that just before it was their turn to be killed, a pickup truck of soldiers led by a “Liberian general” arrived at the scene and questioned ‘Angel Gabriel’ as to why he was slaughtering innocent people.
In that pickup was her “guardian angel” – a female soldier that knew her aunty and took them from among those who had been sentenced to death.
The second witness, a man now in middle age, said he was tied along with the first witness and both were destined for execution.
He also testified that he was a trader and had gone to Waterside in search of goods to buy after hearing that a store had been raided and looting was ongoing that morning in March 2001.
“People were bringing goods out and people were buying goods to sell,” he recalled. “Later, people started shooting and people began to run.” That was when he met Tuesday’s first witness who also helped her aunty sell in the Waterside market.
“I heard someone calling on me to wait, when I turned, I saw a girl. We sell together at Waterside. She cried on me to wait so we could run together,” he said.
He explained that they were caught by six armed men who tied them and took them to their checkpoint and began to beat them.
“When we went there, we met some people already there. Some ladies were in a room. They were saying these ladies are Angel Gabriel’s women. While we were there, Angel Gabriel arrived.”
He said he and the other captives were confused because the soldiers wore Liberian army camouflage but had the accent of Sierra Leoneans.
“He gave the order to kill. They killed some people in rope and beat some people,” he recalled.
“Angel decided to pick six women; he said, these are my women. He gave the instruction to kill the other people and said, ‘When you go, tell God I, Angel Gabriel, sent you.”
The trial continues on Thursday.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.
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