Dr. Ellis Details the History of Conflict in Liberia; United States Influence in Liberian Politics Described

The Hague

January 17, 2008

Court resumed at 2:30 p.m. today.  Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura resumed his direct examination of Dr. Stephen Ellis, an expert in African Studies.  Defense Counsel Terry Munyard, commenced his cross-examination of Dr. Ellis immediately after the direction examination.

Prosecution Examination of Dr. Ellis Completed

The following is a summary of the key points covered during the rest of Dr. Ellis’s direct examination.

  • Dr. Ellis described a conversation with an ECOMOG commander regarding the supply of weapons to the RUF in Sierra Leone.  The commander publicly accused Charles Taylor of flying arms to the RUF using Ukrainian planes and crews.  This statement was just after the attack on Freetown in January 1999.  Bangura introduced a report by IRIN, the news arm of the United Nations.  The report detailed an arms delivery to the RUF.  ECOMOG had confirmed the activities of two countries and their leaders and ECOMOG commander in Sierra Leone had issued a strong warning to the presidents of Liberia and Burkina Faso. 
  • Dr. Ellis described the role of ECOMOG in reinstating the legitimate government.  The May 1997 coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.  The AFRC government was not internationally recognized and ECOWAS formed the Conakry Accord or Conakry Plan to reinstate the government.  The AFRC was removed by military means.  The democratic government was not restored through the diplomatic approach foreseen by the Plan.  The AFRC/RUF government in Sierra Leone did not observe the provisions of the peace plan and they were removed in February 1998 by ECOMOG.  After the removal of the junta, the government armed forces were no longer in existence.  When the democratic government was restored through the February 1998 military attack, the armed forces were in disarray.  
  • Dr. Ellis testified about the role and influence of Charles Taylor over the RUF and his connection to the war in Sierra Leone.  Two examples were discussed, the first of which was the signing of the Lome Peace Accord.  The attack on Freetown in January 1999 led to the making of a documentary “Cry Freetown.”  It was the first time the war received international attention and there was pressure for a peace accord.  The United States sent Reverend Jesse Jackson with authority from President Clinton, who joined in pressuring Foday Sankoh and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to agree to a cease-fire and sign the Lome Accord in July 1999.  Charles Taylor clearly encouraged Foday Sankoh to attend the peace conference and sign the peace accord.  Additionally, Charles Taylor’s influence over the RUF became evident in the abduction of UN peacekeepers.  Charles Taylor proposed himself as intermediary to negotiate the release of hundreds of UN peacekeepers.  Dr. Ellis stated that Charles Taylor reached his peak of influence in the region by 1999. The Lome Accord and the May 2000 hostage situation were signs that something had changed.  The international reaction to the hostage situation and Charles Taylor’s offer to mediate were not welcoming.  Charles Taylor was seen as the person controlling violence in the region. 
  • Dr. Ellis discussed links between the NPFL and RUF.  In his report, units with small children called SBUs in the NPFL were discussed.  It is clear that the RUF and NPFL were close. The TRC report makes clear that at the start of the war, NPFL forces were deeply involved. Many activities attributed to the RUF near the beginning of the war were actually committed by the NPFL. The common term “SBU” suggests that the RUF took that name from the NPFL.
  • Dr. Ellis discussed two defining instances in the relationship between Charles Taylor and ECOMOG.  First, this relationship was affected by the flight of AFRC members from Freetown for Monrovia via helicopter. They were detained by ECOMOG.  Dr. Ellis also testified that, in the early 1990s, the relationship was very hostile with moments of relative tranquility.  There was a major change in 1995, for several reasons.  First, the government in Nigeria changed.  Additionally, General Babangida had left power and General Abacha took over.  General Abacha had a less hostile attitude towards Charles Taylor and the NPFL.  By 1995 the Nigerian government understood that Charles Taylor was a powerful force in Liberia who would not go away.  In the early 1990s, Charles Taylor was ferociously opposed to Nigeria.  He came to recognize that he would never be president without understanding the Nigerians. This led to the July 1997 elections that Charles Taylor won.  ECOWAS wanted to rebuild the Liberian military and police, whereas Taylor made it clear that he wanted ECOMOG to leave Liberia.

Defense Cross-Examined on the History of Conflict in Liberia

The cross-examination of Dr. Ellis centered on the history of conflict in Liberia and the neighboring West African states.  The cross-examination proceeded with Defense Counsel offering several statements regarding the history of Liberia, and the witness providing an affirmative agreement to the statement, with some clarification, or denying the statement.  The following is a summary of the substantive questioning and responses from the witness.

  • The borders between Liberia and Sierra Leone were not delineated until the end of the 19th century / beginning of the 20th century.  In Sierra Leone, Freetown was a colony and the hinterlands were a protectorate.  At that time, the Krio elite in Freetown considered themselves elite.  At this time, Sierra Leone was still under colonial rule, whereas Liberia was not.  Additionally, in many parts of Africa, forced labor was very common and there were regulations on that subject in both countries.  The Liberian archives have regulations providing the rights of industry to use forced labor.  This document was drafted in the 1920s and last updated in 1949. 
  • From 1944 to 1971, Liberian power became concentrated in the hands of President Tubman.  There was an Americo-Liberian elite where some families were more prestigious than others.  Tubman had not been one of the Monrovia elite, but when he became president he became the undisputed patron of everybody in Liberia. There was opposition to him from time to time, but he was able to overcome that. He developed a cult of personality and controlled the economy.  At that time, there was big investment in extractive industries, but insufficient attention was paid to education and social infrastructure. 
  • The United States had great influence in Liberia under President Tubman who was an ally of the United States.  The Firestone Corporation had a significant influence on the economy of Liberia as well.  
  • In 1971, President Tolbert took over and tried to introduce changes. He lacked the overwhelming influence of Tubman and it became obvious that times were changing.  By 1971, all West African countries had overcome colonialism and had become independent except for Guinea-Bissau.  Tolbert tried to distance himself from the United States, by refusing permission to use Roberts International Airport.  The United States wanted to set up a rapid deployment force and he refused it. 
  • Once Tubman died and Tolbert, who had less prestige, came into power there was pressure to change as the people wanted better governance.  As a result, Tolbert attempted to distance himself from the United States.  By 1980, Americans knew there was considerable dissent with the Armed Forces of Liberia.  It became clear that the government was in trouble.  Observers, including the United States, knew the Tolbert government was in trouble and looked for someone better. 
  • There are different versions of how the coup happened and the degree to which it was planned.  Tolbert is said to have been killed in his bedroom.  His son sought refuge in the French embassy and felt he had negotiated safe passage. However, Tolbert’s son was killed, adding to the feeling in West Africa that this was a very bloody coup.  
  • As soon as it was known that Tolbert was dead, various decisions had to be taken. Two figures from the military emerged:  Samuel Doe and Thomas Quiwonkpa.  Quiwonkpa was the most influential, whereas Doe had the highest rank, Master Sergeant.  When asked whether he believed that Doe’s forces stormed the French embassy to kill Tolbert’s son, Dr. Ellis responded that he had seen different accounts.  Terry Munyard then asked if Doe set about disposing of former comrades in arms.  Dr. Ellis explained that there were a number of intrigues as the members of the original group of 17 soldiers started being killed.  For example, Major Garbo (ph) was killed abroad.  He was an American-trained special forces operative who was killed by Liberian troops at the Sierra Leone border.
  • At that point in Liberian history, there was a rapid change.  The ranks of the two most influential figures, Doe and Quiwonkpa, became inflated.  Americans viewed Quiwonkpa as the real power, but Doe began to remove all his rivals and Quiwonkpa fled abroad.  He fled in 1983 with several other people, including Charles Taylor.  Dr. Ellis was not sure about the precise date that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf fled.  
  • The Americans never really lost influence. Although the relationship between the United States and Liberia was not smooth in the wake of the 1980 coup, it became clear that Doe had power so the United States backed him.  It provided funding for Doe and President Reagan invited him to the White House.
  • The 1985 elections appeared to have been rigged.  Dr. Ellis recalled the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Crocker, saying that imperfect elections were better than none at all.
  • During this time, Quiwonkpa, who had been in exile, was planning a coup. At one stage the coup attempt appeared to have succeeded, but Doe regained control of Monrovia.  Doe killed Quiwonkpa and his body was paraded around the streets.  The United States and Israel became involved in training Doe’s elite forces and the United States sent foreign aid.  Dr. Ellis explained that it was clear the aid given was not used for its proper purposes and no one knew precisely where the money went. 
  • At the same time, there were widespread reports of human rights abuses in Liberia.  General Charles Julu became notorious for his methods, particularly in Nimba County.  Given an instruction to repress a military threat, he directed his troops to kill indiscriminately.  There was also a wider problem. The competition between Doe and Quiwonkpa in the early 1980s led them to recruit on an ethnic basis.  This created ethnic tensions within the army, then spread to wider society.  Quiwonkpa came from Nimba County. After his attempted coup, Nimba County felt the full force of Doe’s wrath. 
  • In December 1989, there was an NPFL attack that made it clear that there was an armed movement in northern Liberia.  A number of officers were sent to repress it, including General Julu.  He continued to play a role at times during the 1990s. 
  • The United States had become embarrassed by Doe by the 1990s.  American diplomats were increasingly frustrated with Doe. Various schemes to improve governance were unsuccessful.  There were attempts made by the U.S. government to persuade him to go into exile.  Doe refused.
  • When asked whether a massacre at a Monrovian church in July 1990 indicated how bad the situation was becoming, Dr. Ellis explained that it was very hard to get information out of Liberia in early 1990. There was increasing repression in Monrovia as it became known that the NPFL was advancing.  In July 1990, there was a massacre of 600 displaced people in the church.  They believed the people in the church were from Nimba County.  Dr. Ellis was then asked whether Doe was aware that Charles Taylor’s father was in that church.  He responded that he did not know if Doe’s men were aware of this fact, but he himself had read such news accounts. 
  • Dr. Ellis said that it is difficult to reconstruct popular feeling after the event.  People from Nimba County have told Dr. Ellis that at some point between 1983 and 1985, they were not regarded as real Liberians. That feeling originated in the rivalry between Quiwonkpa and Doe.  Doe had little support by the late 1980s.  The U.S. government was divided by mid-1990 on whether the United States should intervene. 

The cross-examination of Dr. Ellis was stopped in the middle of this discussion.  Dr. Ellis was stating that the State Department was fearful of getting involved, if the outcome was uncertain. Defense Counsel left off with asking the witness whether a U.S. official had gone into the jungle of Liberia to meet with Charles Taylor and the NPFL to discuss whether an invasion of Monrovia would occur or whether he had agreed to abide by an American request that they not invade.