According to Gbagbo’s Defense, Human Rights Watch is Neither Impartial nor Competent

During the May 18 hearing, Emmanuel Altit, lead counsel for Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court (ICC), questioned the credibility of Matt Wells, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, by pointing out shortcomings in his research methodology and aspects he saw as evidence of HRW bias.

Questions by Emmanuel Altit, Laurent Gbagbo’s French lawyer, revolved around a theme: methodology. It was later understood in the hearing that this came about as a result of an agreement between all parties: witness P-369’s interview, the Human Rights Watch researcher (HRW) Matt Wells, was to stick to the form of the research and the various general discoveries and not to the alleged crimes tried by the Court.

In your opinion, did your fixers (for HRW research in Côte d’Ivoire, Ed.’s note) have any political affiliation?“Altit asked. “A direct political affiliation, no,” retorted Wells. The exchange, or rather the contest, went on. Altit fired more shots, while the American researcher dodged them one by one.

On several occasions, Gbagbo’s lawyer wanted to know the names of people with whom HRW worked. Matt Wells consistently refused to give names, stating that HRW’s policy is to never give the names of the victims or witnesses or intermediaries with whom it works.

Then the lawyer, in a direct criticism of the witness, called into doubt all of HRW reports on Côte d’Ivoire. He started with the witness’s knowledge of the French language, and his ability to understand Côte d’Ivoire. “Do you think a young man of 27 years [the age of Wells in 2010] has the experience to understand what is at stake [in the post-election crisis in 2010-2011]?,” Altit asked, a question that answered only by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, who considered it to be “an opinion.” However, when asked about his ability to understand all the codes of the country, things left unsaid, etc., the witness answered with a simple “Yes.”

“You help to decide who is right and who is wrong”

Regarding the way research is conducted and HRW reports from this research, Altit defended the thesis of a “methodological flaw.” According to the lawyer, the sources selected for press releases and reports are not real sources, and interviews are not “scientifically” conducted. The witness snapped back, to restore his legitimacy, “Even in your team’s opening statement, Miss Naouri [another lawyer for Gbagbo] cited several HRW reports.”

According to the Gbagbo defense team, questioning the witness’s credibility also meant highlighting elements showing HRW’s impartiality. Altit referred to Matt Wells’ meeting with the Office of the Prosecutor or Alassane Ouattara’s lawyers (including Jean-Pierre Mignard). He then focused on several expressions used, especially in the overview of Côte d’Ivoire history. “Why did you use the term ‘pretext’ for the postponement of elections?”We took the statement itself as it was in the Reuters report (…) It was just to give information.

Altit’s desire to highlight the impartiality of HRW was also obvious as regards the role of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2010. Altit said the report produced by Wells did not give the readers all the elements: “You present Ouattara’s victory as a fact!“, clearly stating why he thinks this is important: “You write reports and these reports have consequences (…) You help to decide who is right and who is wrong.

“Our work is not about elections”

To each question on the elections, the witness gave Altit an answer that was often similar to this: “Once again, you do not understand what we do at HRW (…) our work is not about elections. Our work begins with the violence (…) we focused on human rights violations committed after the start of the post-election crisis and on both sides.

Finally, Altit continued to call into question the impartiality of witness reports, and in particular the difference, alleged by the defense, in how the Gbagbo camp and the Ouattara camp were treated: “You say in your report that he [Gbagbo] should be convicted of crimes simply because he was the Head of the Army and that he allegedly did not take the necessary measures (…) in the other camp, you mention neither Alassane Ouattara nor Guillaume Soro (…) Why don’t you apply the same standard [to both sides]? ” “We did,” Matt Wells said. However, he added that even though HRW did note the violence on both sides, there was the finding of “incitement to violence by people close to Laurent Gbagbo, including through Charles Blé Goudé’s speech at Le Baron Bar” and the fact that the speech was correlated with increased levels of violence against Alassane Ouattara‘s supporters.


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.