After a morning of closed-door session, a new witness in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial appeared before the court on Wednesday, August 31. Barthelemy Ouattara Obiénéré, an officer in the Ivorian national gendarmerie at the time of former Gbagbo’s presidency, testified openly, without fear of self-incrimination.
Since the witness held a position of authority at the time of the crimes for which the defendants are prosecuted, it was possible that he might incriminate himself. The judges promised, under the rules of the court, that his statement “would not be used against [him] any other proceedings” before the court, unless there was an offense before this court, for example perjury.
After swearing to “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” the witness began to answer questions from lead prosecutor Eric McDonald, who wished to trace in detail the witness’s life story. Bartholomew Obiénéré narrated how he joined the gendarmerie in 1988, taking office in Danané, Western Côte d’Ivoire, before being reassigned, still in the West, following the 2002 conflict. In 2004, the witness finally joined the Abobo commando camp where he rose through the ranks to become Commander of the squadron 3/1 in 2009. Barthelemy Ouattara said that, at the same time, he took over responsibility for the position of Head of the Security Operations Command Center (CECOS). He held that position until March 3, 2011, the day he “left his barracks” to join the Golf Hotel.
“You deserted, right?” Mc Donald asked. To which the witness answered, “Maybe that’s the case.” After he left CECOS, the witness allegedly “took refuge and found shelter at the Hotel du Golf during all that time” and then took command of the Armored Squadron Group in July 2011.
The prosecutor went on at length, asking about the missions of the various security forces such as the police, gendarmerie, and CECOS during the post-election crisis and their respective leaders. Bartholomew Ouattara gave a very precise picture of all of these, unhesitatingly naming their leaders at the time.
Assignments and positions of security forces during the post-election crisis
The witness then drew a comprehensive picture of where Abidjan mobile legions and the country’s departmental legions were stationed and provided information on the organization of the security forces in Abobo and Anyama.
Regarding the Abobo camp, the Commander gave details of its buildings and residents. Besides active gendarmes, off-duty gendarmes and staff families who lived in the camp were constantly on the scene, he said.
Barthelemy Ouattara was then asked to annotate a map marking the location of where security forces were stationed in Abobo and Anyama: at the N’Dotré crossroads, at PK18, at the Gagnoa Railway Station roundabout, or at the Town Hall roundabout. These were the places where CRS1 officers were positioned. The witness said that they were placed there between the two rounds of the 2010 presidential elections.
“As a Commander, were you summoned to meetings before the first round?” The prosecutor finally asked. “Yes, I was. My boss [General Kassaraté] had left me instructions,” the witness said. The scheduled time was past, and the session was adjourned for the day. Tomorrow, the interrogation resumes on the same issues.
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.