Liberia: Inconsistent Testimonies Plague Massaquoi Trial

Monrovia — The prosecution case in the Finnish war crimes trial of Gibril Massaquoi, holding sessions in Liberia this month, has struggled with inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses to events that happened as long as 20 years ago.

None of the witnesses who testified this week has been able to establish the exact year the events they described took place.

Massaquoi became a part of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) from 1999 to 2003 after serving with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that waged war on Sierra Leone in 1991. He is accused murder of civillians and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The inconsistencies in testimonies are a challenge for the prosecution team because there is no physical evidence and witness testimonies form the key part of the case. But state prosecutor Tom Laitinen said he was confident that the consistency of the stories will override any inconsistencies in memories of dates and which faction Massaquoi was representing.

"There is no question that their testimonies are genuine and they are telling us the best that they know," said Laitinen. But he conceded there memories of some aspects have been understandably faulty. "I cannot remember fully what happened to me ten years ago, and the time of the witnesses' experience has taken long."

But in an interview defense lawyer Kaarle Gummerus said the inconsistencies undermined the case against his client. He also pointed to the witness's repeated references to Massaquoi as "Angel Gabriel" which prosecutors allege was one of Massaquoi's aliases during the war. Gummerus said that mistaken identification could be because his client is not the person who committed the crimes.

Defense lawyer Kaarle Gunmerus Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives

The prosecution has not asked the witnesses to identify the Gibril Massaquoi who is on trial as the Angel Gabriel that they say committed the crimes.

In Thursday's proceedings a fourth prosecution witness corroborated the testimony of previous witnesses that "Angel Gabriel" had committed chilling crimes.

"He was introducing himself always as, 'Angel Gabriel Massaquoi who can send people to God', and I remember him so well because he was the cause of my sister's death and myself was raped that I have scars on me today," said the witness, a woman, who was 16 at the time of the alleged crimes. The court has ordered journalists to conceal the identities of all witnesses in the trial to protect them from retaliation or intimidation.

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