Injured during the December 16, 2010 demonstration, the witness known as P-547 is the first to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges.
To provide a framework for the questioning, the Italian judge Cuno Tarfusser recalls some rules regarding how it should be conducted.
In a calm yet stern tone of voice, Judge Tarfusser says he does not want “unnecessary questions…to avoid wasting the court’s time.” More importantly, on no account will he allow questions that might be detrimental to vulnerable victims, such as the victims of rape. He says he may at any time forbid certain questions for the well-being of the witness. In particular he warns that questions about the past sex lives of witnesses who have been victims of rape are prohibited.
The presiding judge greets the witness: “Good morning, Sir.” A robot-generated voice returns the greeting. “The judge has granted you protective measures. These measures will be applied throughout the testimony” Judge Tarfusser says. He explains: “Nobody except us here knows your name…we will call you Sir or use your identification number P-547…No one will be able to see your face or hear your real voice.”
With robotic-sounding and quiet noises, the witness agrees.
The demand for truth
Speaking to P-547, the judge reminds him that the chamber considers the well-being of witnesses as crucial; therefore they can, at any time, request assistance, take a break, or let it be known that they feel uncomfortable.
The witness speaks in Dioula. For the purposes of translation, the judge also asks him to speak slowly and clearly.
Then the judge refers to the obligation of the witness to tell the truth: “You are required by law to take a solemn oath. I ask you to repeat after me the following words: ‘I solemnly swear that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ ”
The witness complies, in Dioula. Perjury is a punishable criminal offense.
Soro invited people “to march bare-handed“
The witness was a member of the RDR for “about 10 years.” The reason why he is in The Hague is that he has come to testify as a victim. He was injured while marching on December 16, 2010 towards the Ivorian Radio Television (RTI).
The man, who cannot read or write, still lives with physical scars. “Before the march, I was in good health,” he says.
He first talks about the second round of the 2010 election. He says that in his polling station, “some gendarmes wanted to take away the ballot boxes by force …We refused…They were unable to take them away.”
His decision to go to the RTI originated in Guillaume Soro’s call which he heard on the UNOCI radio. Soro invited people “to march bare-handed.”
“What did ‘bare-handed’ mean according to you?” asks prosecution lawyer Eric MacDonald. It was to “show that we had no violent intent. We are civilians; this is what we wanted people to understand,” the man replied.
“A knife or a grigri”
He recounts his journey to the RTI. He speaks of his fear when he saw the first “military men in fatigues” because it meant “something” was going on.
Then he talks about the firing of tear gas he heard after he walked across the Northern Highway and headed for the Plateau. People ran, he fell down, and he felt that his leg was injured. Then finally a military vehicle drove up.
“I was on the ground with my broken leg, said P-547, when the men came out [of the vehicle]…The chief said [to his men] that if they found a knife or a grigri [a lucky charm or talisman] on me, it meant that I had come to attack them.”
If this had been the case, as could be understood despite a somewhat confused narrative, they would have shot him dead on the spot. “But they found nothing, God saved me,” he continues.
“Then they left,” recalls the man, still in Dioula. We understand that at one point he was shot in the leg.
Beaten to death by gendarmes
Then a gray vehicle arrives, presumably, the “gendarmerie commando.” “What are you doing outside?” one of them asks. He answers he was marching because he wanted justice. “They beat me to death…It was worse than being pummeled by a mob…Other people were running and they shot at them but missed.”
He went on speaking; explaining that one of the soldiers had asked a superior if he was to kill him. “He’s already ‘gone’,” allegedly answered the officer when he saw P-547 lying on the ground.
MacDonald asks what types of injuries he suffered. The witness exclaims: “Don’t you see that my head still bears scars? And my ribs hurt me to this day.” He also specifies that he uses a crutch. A photograph showing the part of his body where he received the bullet is also presented to the chamber.
The witness explained that at one point, a Red Cross ambulance finally arrived at site and drove him to Yopougon University Hospital Center (CHU). Then there was a roadblock. Men armed with “machetes and guns” wanted the wounded to come out of the vehicle. “They were going to kill us all,” says the witness.
In Cocody, the protesters were not entitled to medical care
“We received good care at the University Hospital, but later we were told that we had to move to Cocody,” P-547 goes on. He explains that some people told him that they were not going to get any medical treatment in Cocody, that “Gbagbo had issued the order.” But P-547 still went there.
There, “no doctor came to us…We stayed in the hallway with the wounded, no one came.” A doctor walked up to him and asked if he was in the demonstration. He said yes and was told it was better for him to leave. “They had received a message that all people who had been in the march were not to receive medical treatment,” he explains.
He talks about the wounded and dying people in the hospital hallways. Finally on December 18, he went to a clinic.
The witness eventually informed the chamber that he no longer works because he cannot stand up for a long time. But he said he was happy to participate in the trial: “I’m here to talk to the Presiding Judge, and I thank God.”
Witness P-547’s testimony will continue tomorrow with questions by the Office of the Prosecutor, after which he will answer the defense lawyers’ questions.
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.