Gbagbo – Blé Goudé Trial: a Human Rights Watch Researcher Before the Court

For the first time since the beginning of the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial, an NGO researcher was questioned by the International Criminal Court (ICC). This researcher talked about what he observed in the course of his missions during and after the Ivorian post-electoral crisis.

At the ICC, there are days when everything starts off bad. At the beginning of the hearing, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser tried, unsuccessfully, to address the Court. His microphone and those of all participants in the trial were not working. Shortly after this little incident, the new witness, the witness P-369, was absent. “First the microphones (…) and now the witness has disappeared!” exclaimed the Italian judge who, after a few minutes, got up and left the courtroom. This was a rather absurd moment that ultimately went on for only a short time. The trial resumed its normal course, in the presence of the new witness.

Matthew Franklin Wells, a.k.a. Matt Wells, is a researcher working for the Human Rights Watch (HRW) NGO. This international organization specializes in the defense of human rights and the establishment of a directory recording human rights violations committed throughout the world. Wells, who worked for the NGO from 2009 to 2014, was present in Côte d’Ivoire during the post-election crisis to conduct this field research work to identify human rights violations committed “in each camp,” in his own words.

Responding to questions from Melissa Pack, representing the Office of the Prosecutor, he also recalled the values which he considered as an integral part HRW work: objectivity and impartiality. On hearing these words, Laurent Gbagbo, ever present, smiled and nodded quietly.

HRW’s work during the crisis in Ivory Coast

First questioned on the methodology used, Wells said that HRW is demanding when it lists stories: information cross-checking is systematic. Over 500 people were interviewed by HRW on human rights violations committed in Côte d’Ivoire during the crisis.

The profiles of those interviewed by HRW during and after the crisis are varied. The witness said that during his missions in the country, he interviewed victims of sexual violence or torture, and murder witnesses or persons responsible for crimes themselves. He added that he interviewed members of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS), the Forces Nouvelles (FN) or Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) and members of the Invisible Commando and Patriotic Youths.

The witness visited Côte d’Ivoire several times. It was the different episodes of violence, “the escalation of tension” that led HRW to conduct this research and then publish press releases and reports on the situation, said Matt Wells.

He spoke in detail of his various missions and told the Prosecutor how he went about his research in the Abobo neighborhood. He said he was not able to go to the Avocatier neighborhood because, according to consistent witness testimonies, there was violence around the Young Patriots’ “parliament.” Elsewhere he said there were checkpoints held by members of the Invisible Commando.

“There were more active conflicts” in March 2011

“The escalation of violence on both sides,” with the “Invisible Commando” and “Blé Goudé’s speech in Baron Bar,” was what led Wells to return to Côte d’Ivoire in March 2011. For him these elements emphasized effective violence: “there were more active conflicts, especially in Abobo,” he said. He added that on March 9, he did hear vehicles shooting in the neighborhood. According to him those vehicles surely came from the Commando camp.

It was also in March, he added, that he went into the Doukouré neighborhood in Yopougon where he noted the destruction of mosques and bullet holes.

Finally, Wells came back on another mission in May 2011 to identify the various human rights violations during the battle of Abidjan and after Laurent Gbagbo was captured. He explained that he focused mainly on Yopougon where he found the fiercest battles. He told how he found in the district more or less big “mounds of earth,” which he was told were mass graves. The largest of these graves was near a mosque.

But it was also during this mission that he visited Abobo again. He said that there he saw many bullet holes, including around the SOS village and each time found “bullet holes very similar” to each other.

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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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