Dr. Ellis Describes the History of Conflict and Political Uprising in Liberia; Father Chema Details his Work with Child Soldiers

The Hague

January 18, 2008

Theresa Doherty, a judge from Northern Ireland, has taken over as presiding judge from Julia Sebutinde. The position of presiding judge rotates each year. 

Following this announcement, Defense Counsel Terry Munyard continued his cross-examination of Prosecution witness Dr. Stephen Ellis.

  • Defense counsel questioned Dr. Ellis about Pan-Africanism.  Dr. Ellis explained that the concept has existed as a modern political force since the 1940s.  This is the notion that Africa should be unified; the concept of Pan-Africanism as a political program was advanced by former President Nkrumah of Ghana.  However, many African leaders did not support Nkrumah in realizing that goal.
  • Dr. Ellis testified that he has heard different accounts regarding the composition of the military training camps in Libya.  There were not just people from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dr. Ellis explained that he actually met a young man from Mauritius who was at the camps.  He also recounted that Colonel Gadaffi was seen as having a revolutionary vision that led him to support a number of anti-American, anti-Western movements. As a result, many people came from around Africa to his camps in Libya.  When asked, Dr. Ellis agreed that he had heard of Ali Kabbeh, who some have said originally set up the RUF, being present at these camps.
  • Defense counsel questioned Dr. Ellis on the NPFL incursion into Liberia in 1989.  Dr. Ellis explained that there were two components: (1) the friends and supporters of Thomas Quiwonkpa who organized themselves in Libya and Burkina Fasso and (2) the political opponents of Liberian President Samuel Doe, who included members of the Liberian educated class, among them Charles Taylor.  After the elections of 1985 many of the latter group left the country for the United States.  Charles Taylor, an official in the Doe government, also came to the United States where he was imprisoned at the request of the Liberian government on charges of embezzlement. In 1985 he escaped from prison, which may explain the reason for his return to West Africa.
  • Dr. Ellis described the elements supporting the insurgency against Samuel Doe.  In 1990, ECOWAS gathered together a military force to deploy in support of Doe in Liberia.  At this stage, the NPFL consisted of a core of trained rebels and thousands of armed civilians without training.  Charles Taylor claimed leadership of the NPFL.  Rivals disappeared, presumably murdered.  By May 1990, Samuel Doe only controlled Monrovia.  The NPFL was spreading and thousands of people were massacred.  By mid-1990, Charles Taylor had eliminated his chief rivals in the NPFL.  As the acknowledged NPFL leader, he established the NPRAG government.  His government controlled most of Liberia outside Monrovia and Charles Taylor began referring to himself as president.
  • Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report described the first phase of the war in Sierra Leone as lasting from 1991 until 1994 and being dominated by the NPFL.  Dr. Ellis explained that, according to the TRC Report, the war in Sierra Leone was largely started by NPFL fighters under Charles Taylor’s command.  The first step in the Sierra Leonean war was a radio broadcast by Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh, who demanded that President Momoh quit office and establish a more democratic government.  Sankoh had been in a Sierra Leonean jail for opposing former Sierra Leonean President Siaka Stevens.  He served some years in prison and was an embittered man struggling to make a living.  At that time, Sierra Leone was run by the All Peoples Congress (APC). Stevens had arranged for Momoh, a General at the time, to succeed him. The APC was unpopular and Momoh was seen as a weak President.  
  • In 1991-1992, Liberia was relatively stable while the war in Sierra Leone got underway.  ULIMO was fighting against Charles Taylor in Liberia. ECOMOG controlled Monrovia.  When Charles Taylor’s forces attempted to take Monrovia through “Operation Octopus” in 1992, ECOMOG replied with the means at its disposal, including targeting civilians and arming factions opposed to the NPFL.  At that time, there was a transitional government in Monrovia headed by Amos Sawyer.  This government was supported by Nigeria and received support from the Liberian political class.  The original ECOMOG intervention in Liberia was controversial.  Some ECOWAS countries opposed the intervention because they were close to the NPFL.  Efforts were made to reach a compromise, but many countries did not want Charles Taylor to become president of Liberia.  General Babangida of Nigeria opposed any peace accord that made Charles Taylor the president of Liberia.  
  • Dr. Ellis reported that, by 1993, the climate in Liberia was changing.  General Babangida had left office in Nigeria and was replaced by General Abacha.  General Abacha was less opposed to Charles Taylor.  At that time, several West African governments realized the Liberian war was ruinous to the region and agreed that a political settlement with Charles Taylor had to be reached.  The key political settlement was at Abuja, the capital of Nigeria in 1995, which Charles Taylor attended.  After Abuja, Charles Taylor was able to enter Monrovia.  From 1995-1997, there was a period when the armed factions continued to fight in the countryside, while the leaders of the factions sat together in Monrovia.
  • The events of April 1996 were very important. The Liberian National Transitional Government was a unity government of warlords, including Charles Taylor.  Fighting erupted in Monrovia on April 6, 1996.  It was the bloodiest battle of the war.  Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah tried to take power by force.  Smaller factions banded together in self-defense.  ECOMOG faced confusion and the various factions supported themselves by purchasing arms and ammunition from ECOMOG.  
  • After the events of April 1996, there was acceptance by governments in West Africa and the United States that Charles Taylor would win elections.  He had support in some parts of the country and led the largest faction.  The hope of the international community and many Liberians was that Charles Taylor would use his new position to consolidate peace.  However, that did not occur.  In December 1997, a close Charles Taylor associate, Sam Dokie, was murdered.  Dr. Ellis testified that he was in Liberia at the time, and people thought, “If he’s killing his own friends, what is he going to do with everyone else?”  In September 1998 there was heavy fighting in Monrovia and opponents of Taylor were shot.  
  • Charles Taylor’s NPRAG government included several foreigners and leaders from the different armed forces.  Charles Taylor maintained a number of different armed and security units armed by rival commanders.  His security included Kukoi Samba Sanyang and Yanks Smart, both from the Gambia. They were Vice President and Ambassador to Libya, respectively.  Given the important role of Libya in arming Charles Taylor’s government, Smart held an important security position.  
  • Dr. Ellis testified that, in 1997, Charles Taylor’s government lacked an efficient bureaucracy.  Under Taylor, titles and government departments existed, but they were “hollow shells”.  For example, a Ministry of Mines existed, but all minerals were controlled by Charles Taylor.  Charles Taylor also reorganized the processing of revenues received from the shipping registry.  Money was diverted to purchase arms instead of going to the Liberian treasury.  
  • Dr. Ellis explained that according to Sierra Leone’s TRC, the war can be understood in three phases, and that in the first phase, lasting until 1994, the NPFL were primary perpetrators.  The TRC report does acknowledge an evolution in the relationship between the NPFL and RUF, but sees the NPFL as remaining a key player.  Defense Counsel suggested that the NPFL was not involved with the RUF in Sierra Leone from 1993 to 1997, and Dr. Ellis disagreed.  He explained that there were continuing relations between members of the NPFL and the RUF.  The intensity of the relationship changed and ULIMO control of the border area made contact more difficult.  This created a physical barrier but contact did not cease.  There was a military wedge between the two organizations.
  • Dr. Ellis also testified about diamond smuggling and enterprise in Sierra Leone.  He stated that smuggling of diamonds from Sierra Leone to Liberia was not a new development, and that the control of the diamond industry in Sierra Leone became an objective for many, including Taylor.  ECOMOG played a complex role in the diamond business. It is clear that members of ECOMOG developed interest in the diamond business.  In 1995, this was complicated by the arrival of South African mercenaries, Executive Outcomes, who worked for the government of Sierra Leone, and other companies dealing in diamonds.  Executive Outcomes and ECOMOG were on the same side.  Some ECOMOG individuals smuggled diamonds for personal gain. Conversely, Executive Outcomes had a formal arrangement with diamond companies.
  • Defense Counsel questioned Dr. Ellis with regard to whether the program of mass amputations started as the AFRC and RUF were retreating from Freetown in 1999.  Dr. Ellis disagreed and recounted his trip in May to June 1998 where he met amputees who were their victims.  He reported that there was a clear plan and, from the beginning of the Freetown invasion, there were amputations.  Some amputees even reported that they were amputated by people who were part of a “Cut-Hand Unit”.
  • In 1999 West African countries were trying to reach an agreement among themselves on a way to move forward.  The cease-fire agreement in Sierra Leone was established in May 1999.  The President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and US envoy Jesse Jackson met with RUF leader Foday Sankoh under the auspices of President Eyadema of Togo.  The most significant actors behind the July 1999 Lome Peace Accord were Charles Taylor and Jesse Jackson.  As part of the arrangements for Lome, the Liberian government provided a guesthouse for the RUF leadership in a very public way.  Following this agreement, Sankoh and Sam Bockarie had a falling out, as Bockarie wanted to delay disarmament.
  • The ten months following the Lome Peace Accord marked the high point of Charles Taylor’s strategic influence in West Africa.  International political circles were shocked about RUF being given a role in government at Lome.  There were also factional divisions within the RUF. By common consent, the judgment of Jesse Jackson was “lamentable”. He referred to Sankoh as the Nelson Mandela of Sierra Leone.  Many felt that Kabbah was forced into the agreement. As a result of Lome, Sankoh became the top diamond official in Sierra Leone.  This agreement meant that there was diplomatic confirmation of the RUF’s importance in Sierra Leone.  There were intense factional conflicts that Jesse Jackson and Charles Taylor were attempting to control.
  • After the Lome Peace Accord of July 1999, the UK and U.S. governments identified Charles Taylor as a key factor behind the RUF.  Because the UK had expended substantial capital in stabilizing Sierra Leone, it intervened in May 2000 when UN peacekeepers were taken hostage. The US government became more involved for different reasons.  The TRC concluded that from 2000 onwards, the RUF was in “terminal decline” due to the arrival of UK troops and the arrest of Foday Sankoh, both in May 2000.

Defense Counsel Terry Munyard concluded his cross-examination of Dr. Ellis.  Immediately following, Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura commenced his re-examination of Dr. Ellis. The highlights from his re-examination are as follows:

  • Liberian legislation in the 1940s allowed for forced labor in Liberia.  There was a distinction made between the coastal counties and hinterlands.  In 1963 and 1964, the hinterland territories were brought into the joint state.  The regulations on forced labor ended then and no longer applied by the start of the Liberian civil war.  Dr. Ellis stated that he had no knowledge of such legislation on the books in Sierra Leone in 1991.
  • When asked whether the well-being of civilians had improved under Charles Taylor’s presidency starting in 1997, Dr. Ellis responded that it was hard to answer.  Liberians had suffered greatly during the war.  The population patterns changed as large numbers of rural Liberians moved to Monrovia and people fled as refugees. As a result, it is impossible to say whether the population was better off under Taylor or Doe.
  • Dr. Ellis also discussed the small numbers of individuals going to Libya for ideological or military training, some sponsored by the Libyan government. These individuals include those who were involved in the start of the war in Liberia.  Two documents were given to him by a senior NPFL member that included lists of people trained in Libya before 1989.  By 2000, many of them were dead.  The survivors were key Taylor allies, including Benjamin Yeaten who received training in Libya and was a confidante of Charles Taylor. Under Charles Taylor, he became the Director of the Special Security Services.  Dr. Ellis further explained that the murder of Taylor associate Sam Dokie took place in December 1997.  Dokie was last seen alive in the custody of Benjamin Yeaten, and it appeared that Yeaten was responsible for his death.

Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra introduced the next prosecution witness, José Maria Caballero, known as Father Chema.

Father Chema is originally from Spain but now lives in Sierra Leone.  He was sent to Sierra Leone in 1991 to work on issues of justice, peace and human rights.  In April 1999 he started a program involving child soldiers with the support of UNICEF.  He worked at St. Michael’s Lodge from April 1999 to March 2002 and treated 3,025 children.  At least 62% were child soldiers.

The first group arrived in April 1999. Most of the children ranged in age from 12 to 15.  Many of the children were “camp followers” and the girls had been “sex slaves,” used by the fighters “as wives”.  The youngest girl Father Chema remembered meeting had been kidnapped at age 7 or 8, and reported being abused by an RUF commander as a “bush wife” until she became pregnant.  Father Chema recalled that most of the child soldiers were Sierra Leonean and some were from Liberia.

The witness also discussed a document used to register the children.  This document recorded family background, the child’s name, nickname as a fighter, nationality, tribe, languages, schools, last address, landmarks to identify their village location, information on relatives, wishes of the child if the family was located, where the child had been abducted, and where the fighting force moved with the child.

Father Chema also described the typical history of a child soldier:  Following the abduction of the child, they were forced to carry looted items from their village to the fighters’ camps.  They were divided among the commanders and some were selected for training as fighters.  The training was called “American track” and included an obstacle course where live fire was dispensed above their heads.  They learned how to use weapons and lay ambushes.  The RUF told them that the government had stolen all the riches of Sierra Leone, that they were fighting for free education and a better country.  At the end of the training, they were taken to the juju man where they were anointed with a liquid to make them invisible to enemies or impervious to bullets.  After they killed their first victim, they returned to the juju man with something from the victim, often a body part.  The children were trained to believe that these items protected them.  Children were also trained to use AK-47’s and RPG guns.  After this training, they were sent back to their villages to kill their parents and to burn the harvest of the village. 

The children described their assignments to Father Chema.  Father Chema explained that they were used as fighters to attack villages, for food-finding missions, as spies, and as bodyguards for the big commanders.  The children were armed with AK-47’s, RPG’s and guns.  They also reported being given drugs before attacks.  These drugs came from helicopters that came to their bases along with weapons.  Other children reported walking to the Liberian border to exchange looted goods and diamonds for drugs and weapons. 

Court will resume on Monday at 9:30 a.m.