Unveiled Witnesses and Laughing Defendants

Today’s hearing resembles a dissipated classroom held by a strained teacher: the Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser. Here is the story of a confusing day, with leaked names that embarrass the ICC, two troublesome defendants, and a dissenting judge.

At least four supposedly anonymous witnesses had their names revealed inadvertently during a courtroom closed session. Three of them are former generals of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) and one is an “Ivorian political and public figure,” and they were members of Laurent Gbagbo’s inner circle. Their names have quickly circulated on social networks.

Eric MacDonald, who was speaking to the court in a private session, refers to these names to precisely talk about the safety and anonymity of witnesses. These names were revealed to all parties within the strictest confidence “but cannot be revealed to the public,” as we hear the prosecution lawyer say in the session, on a video posted online.

He also spoke of the social networks that the Office of the Prosecutor regularly reviews for security reasons. He pointed to “improvised bloggers and journalists” who were trying to find out which names were hiding behind the pseudonyms assigned to the witnesses.

Therefore this obvious dissemination error appears serious for the safety of witnesses as for the conducting of the procedure and casts doubts on the ability of the court to ensure the confidentiality of witnesses.

Some dissent among judges

The day’s hearing began with the refusal of the Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser to allow the defense to appeal the decision that he made yesterday, which prohibits the use of leading questions. He believes that the arguments presented yesterday were not convincing enough to allow an appeal of the decision contested.

However, his colleague, Judge Geoffrey Henderson expressed a dissenting opinion, arguing that the decision could amount to accepting “implicitly the evidence presented” and that, ultimately, it could possibly affect the trial. According to him, allowing the decision to be appealed would have assured the chamber that it was on the right track.”

First cross-examination

Defense lawyer Andreas O’Shea then led the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness in the trial, Witness P-547. The man, an illiterate former truck driver, injured in the December 16, 2010 march on the RTI, always addresses the court in Dioula.

The defense asks questions about the witness’s relationship with the Republican Rally (RDR) as well as his knowledge of the rebellion.

The man, a former RDR militant, says he no longer believes in promises. RDR members had visited him a few days after he came back from the hospital and promised to help. “They never came back,” he laments.

Issiaka Diaby, Chairman of the Côte d’Ivoire Victims Collective (CVCI), also came to victims’ meetings and promised to look into the case and assist “He never did anything for my healthHe made promises he never kept.” So even if the ICC promises medical help for his leg which still hurt, he no longer believes them.

P-547 does not hide it: even if he does not want to vote for RDR because he is disappointed, he still likes Alassane Ouattara. “I like him…because since he took office we’ve been sleeping in peace…He seeks to bring people together.”

Gbagbo’s lawyer then asked him what happened in the second round incident, where he says he saw gendarmes trying to take away the ballot box. The lawyer asks his questions in approximate French, and the witness’s story is difficult to understand.

Disruptive troublemakers

Listening to the man talking, Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé laugh more and more. MacDonald takes offense and speaks: “The accused are laughing and this is something serious…This is a lack of respect!”

Judge Tarfusser explains it had escaped his attention. With authority, he asks them to stop because “nothing must transpire…They cannot show their disagreement.” O’Shea cautions that the witness also laughed. “The witness is under stress, and it’s normal for him to show his emotions,” retorted the judge. “Defendants must refrain from such behavior.”

Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé don’t laugh any more. Scolded, they keep quiet.

An air of school class

Judge Tarfusser, like a teacher facing a dissipated class, took the opportunity to lecture the witness after he reproached Gbagbo’s lawyer for asking nonsensical questions, “Mr. Witness, it is not for you to decide whether a question is relevant or not!”

After this incident, comes another one. O’Shea, speaking of the rebellion, asks him what he knows of the rebels, and then exclaims: “It’s amazing that you do not know the armed men who supported Ouattara!”

Judge Tarfusser is angry: “This is your opinion, Mr. O’Shea, this is not a question!” The judge and the prosecution are of the opinion that Gbagbo’s lawyer presents his case, and not facts, to the witness.

Then P-547 says that he and the people in the march had neither placards nor weapons. He says they went “bare-handed”, just to “make Laurent Gbagbo change his mind,” and leave power.

Finally, the defense wants to present a video of Guillaume Soro, but there is a new objection and a debate on the use of the video ensues. But it is late. The discussion will resume on Monday [February 8].

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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.

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