Massaquoi: Please hide this trial from Liberians

On Saturday March 20 in Monrovia, the main Liberian actors advocating for a national war crimes court to try crimes committed during the civil wars of 1989-2003 were meeting in a big hotel in the Liberian capital. The most activist and well-informed community on this issue were there to assess the impasse in which their project finds itself and to reflect on their strategy. They included former commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), members of parliament, traditional chiefs, NGO activists, victims’ representatives, and foreign diplomats.

At the same time, the trial of Gibril Massaquoi had been ongoing for a month on the outskirts of the city, before a Finnish court relocated to Liberia for the occasion. This was the first trial to be held in the country for war crimes committed on Liberian soil some 20 years ago. It was an event. Yet most of those present at the conference had no idea about it. Of the three former TRC members, two knew nothing about the ongoing trial; the third, a former journalist, had read the few press reports but had never been there. The number two at the embassy in Sierra Leone, Massaquoi’s home country, didn’t know that the hearings were being held a few miles away and was unaware that the trial would soon continue in Freetown, the Sierra Leonean capital. Larry Younquoi, the MP who has been leading the campaign for years for a national court to try former Liberian warlords, knew no better. “That’s not the enthusiasm expected. There is not much publicity. We don’t know where the [hearings] are being held. The momentum has not been built,” he confided during a coffee break.

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