After cross-examination, the first witness was thanked. The second witness [for the prosecution], a man wounded on February 25 in Yopougon, took his place in the courtroom.
However, Witness P-547 [the first witness] truly caused problems for the chamber. His cross-examination was continually plagued with communication problems between him and the other parties in the trial.
As he was being questioned today by Charles Blé Goudé’s defense team, there continued to be many translation problems. A very complex translation system is in place because Dioula, French, and English languages are spoken.
Indeed, at one point, Geert-Jan Knoops, lead counsel for Blé Goudé, thought he understood a fact that would have dismantled much of P-547’s testimony, who has always maintained that he was only surrounded by peaceful people marching on the RTI. “You told the Chamber on 16 December 2010 that there were civilians who were shooting?” asks the Dutch lawyer, looking surprised by the response he heard from the interpreter’s mouth. However, once the translation error was highlighted by the judge, the witness repeated that he never saw civilians shoot anyone.
A hectic closed session
Apart from translations that sometimes proved difficult, Judge Cuno Tarfusser intervened regularly to repeat or reformulate questions from Mr. Knoops or Mr. Gbougnon, another lawyer on Blé Goudé’s defense team. He simplified or developed the defense’s questions and often managed to finally get the witness to answer them.
The morning session, which was focused on cross-examination, also had moments of tension and even anger. During a partial closed session, we saw the various parties getting up in turn with a certain amount of excitement: Eric MacDonald (lawyer for the prosecution) seemed somewhat irritated by Knoops’s words, while Emmanual Altit (Gbagbo’s lawyer) and Paolina Massidda (the representative of the victims) intermittently seemed to be interjecting further arguments into a lively discussion whose content will remain unknown. The sound was cut off to the audience, so comments made during the closed session remain a mystery.
Detecting flaws in the witness’s account
The tension still mounted with the speech of Gbougnon, Blé Goudé’s Ivorian lawyer, when McDonald strongly reproaches him for paraphrasing the witness’s statements. This distorted the witness’s words. Gbougnon complies and then still tries to point out the contradictions in the witness’s account: places, people, or events are dissected to pinpoint potential flaws in the story.
The lawyer tries to show that the witness says things that he could not possibly know according to him, like when he was in the ambulance and lay wounded but said he was still in Cocody. “We had not gone far [in the ambulance],” the witness justifies.
Finally, shortly before the lunch break, the judge thanked P-547, the first witness in a long list. The man from Yopougon had given the court a hard time.
The second witness enters the scene (at last)
The afternoon started with a long closed session, when it can be assumed that the second witness’s identity was stated and that he was told about security procedures. There is only a half hour left for the introduction to the audience. The man, questioned by another prosecution lawyer, is a victim of the February 2011 Yopougon event for which only Blé Goudé is tried.
He answered questions in French but, because of voice alteration, the story is difficult to understand. In addition, information is fragmented due to lack of time and the closed session introduction.
Intimidation by the pro-Gbagbo
However, we still learned that the man is originally from the Doukouré neighborhood in Yopougon and is Mossi. In his account, he refers to “militia” and “armed gangs.” He also speaks of pro-Gbagbo youth training with members of the riot police (BAE) that he allegedly saw in the neighborhood two or three months before the elections. “They ran every morning,” he said, adding that pro-Gbagbo youths were mentored by some BAE and that “they were learning to shoot…behind the 16th district.” He told the prosecutor, “You could see them; they did it in broad daylight, without hiding,”
He explains that he and the residents were called “foreigners” by the same pro-Gbagbo groups and that they made no mystery of their intention to intimidate.
“They came to stone us”
Then, starting to speak about February 25, 2011, the day he was injured, he noted the “gbakas” and people “who were burned.” He said Blé Goudé had just spoken at a meeting and after him the Gbagbo supporters “came with stones and started throwing them to us…They came to stone us.” He said that he and the people who were with him also threw stones. But, according to the witness, the police started to shoot at them. “People were dying,” he said.
It was almost time for the end of the hearing. The questioning was interrupted in line with a religious imperative for witness. The judge told him the meeting was adjourned, “You can go to pray…we’ll meet again tomorrow.”
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice , a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide(RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.