Witness Justifies the Use of Heavy Weapons When Facing “an Enemy That Does Not Respect the Rules”

Today’s hearing in the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, the last before the trial resumes in late August, provided one more opportunity to question the current prosecution witness. The discussion was mainly on heavy weapons, Abobo events, and the Invisible Commando.

As in previous sessions, the witness’s identity and ID number were not disclosed. However, judging from the conduct of the examination, it was probably the same person that was questioned in previous days. “This is your last day of testimony,” the Presiding Judge also said when opening the hearing. Geert-Jan Knoops, Charles Blé Goudé’s defense counsel, also questioned the witness about statements he had made during the July 12th hearing.

Taxis to open fire

For much of the session, again interrupted by several closed-door sessions, Knoops conducted the interrogation. The lawyer for the Young Patriots’ leader initially focused his questions on the Abobo events. He reminded the witness of his July 12th statements about attacks by the Invisible Commando, especially on cars (taxis) that were allegedly used to open fire on police at the Abobo Railway Station roundabout. The presence of hand grenades was denied by the witness. According to him, the Invisible Commando may have used hand grenades in other circumstances, but in this case only Kalashnikovs were sighted.

Containers, tables, and benches turned into roadblocks

Knoops then asked the witness what he thought the Invisible Commando had used to build roadblocks in Abobo. “The containers used to build roadblocks were publicly visible,” responded the witness.

“So if I understand correctly, roadblocks were built with containers. But there were also tables and benches, right?” Knoops insisted. “That’s right,” the witness answered.

Later, defense counsel for Blé Goudé talked about “retaliation,” which the witness allegedly mentioned in a previous session. “I was not talking about retaliation but security measures,” replied the witness.

“So you mean measures to protect the security forces?” the lawyer asked.

“No, these were general measures,” the witness said.

“Guerrilla warfare”

Knoops also focused on the use of heavy weapons. “Were the FDS [Ivorian Defense and Security Forces] authorized to use heavy weapons? And what does ‘heavy weapons’ mean?” he asked. According to the witness, permission has to be requested for everything. And unlike a Kalashnikov, “a heavy weapon is a weapon that can be used only by at least two people,” he added.

“Yesterday, you told us that the situation in Abobo resembled guerrilla warfare. When you fight guerrilla warfare, there are urban area constraints related to the presence of civilians,” the lawyer said. “Do you know if permissions depend on public safety?” Knoops asked.

“Yes, that’s what I said,” replied the witness.

According to him, one always had to give systematic justifications for one’s motivations and objectives before being allowed to use the so-called heavy weapons. “Normally, the use of heavy weapons is not allowed. But when you are facing an enemy that does not respect the rules, what do you do?” the witness asked the lawyer and the audience.

“So in this very specific context, what would be your very specific response?” Knoops insisted again.

“If we take all security measures, we can request permission,” the witness summed up.

The issue of the FDS’s fear of the Invisible Commando was then raised by Blé Goudé defense, but the witness said he did “not have details” on the subject. Knoops also mentioned questions asked during yesterday’s hearing about RTI events before the session went on behind closed doors.

After the closed-door session was over, it was the turn of Melissa Pack, Deputy Prosecutor, to ask questions to the witness.

“You have mentioned the use of mortars. Do you know what special procedure must be followed to use a mortar?” she asked.

“Using a mortar requires the approval of the Armed Forces General Staff,” the witness said.

The hearing then went into closed session before ending completely. The next hearing is scheduled for August 30.

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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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