A new witness began testifying in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, September 7. P-501 was given special protection measures, which resulted in almost all of the hearing being conducted in private session to preserve the anonymity of the witness.
Witness P-501 was given the protection measures of a distorted voice, a pseudonym, and his face being blurred. “Nobody knows who you are,” Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser immediately reassured him. Earlier this week, Judge Tarfusser had given some indications as to the necessity for these measures. The trial chamber made this decision in view “of the position he [the witness] held during the crisis,” taking into account the personal and professional risks the witness and his family are exposed to.
In December 2014, P-501 provided a written statement to the Office of the Prosecutor. This document is to serve as a basis for the various parties when they do their questioning during trial. Consequently, the testimony will be short, with questions only aiming at seeking clarification. “You are neither a prosecution witness nor a defense witness,” recalled the Judge Tarfusser before giving the floor to the prosecution
The questions from the prosecution were all asked in private session. It was not possible to hear the interview, but some answers made Laurent Gbagbo respond. Shaking his head and waving his finger as a sign of denial, the accused did not really seem to agree with the witness’s account.
A public examination when answers are in closed-door session
Following questions from the prosecution, the hearing briefly resumed in public session. Mr. O’Shea, one of Gbagbo’s defense lawyers, stood up to ask questions to the witness.
“How many people were employed by the President’s Security Group (GSPR) in 2010, 2011?” O’Shea asked.
“I don’t have the numbers in mind,” replied P-501.
“How many people worked at the President’s residence on a day like this?” the defense lawyer repeated, apparently referring to a day mentioned earlier at the private session.
“I cannot tell you,” the witness answered. As he started to provide an explanation, the chamber requested a private session, fearing that clues to his identity could be revealed.
O’Shea then asked P-501 questions about a decree defining the missions of the GSPR. The lawyer asked the witness to confirm that members of that unit were occasionally assigned to the “protection of eminent Ivorian and foreign personalities visiting Côte d’Ivoire.”
“Sure,” he replied, explaining that the commander of the group “appoints elements to be at the disposal” of an eminent foreign personality if necessary.
Then there were questions on “records” presented to the witness. “Is it fair to say that on some pages, you do not recognize the handwriting?” O’Shea asked. The witness nodded then explained he had not seen the document since the end of March 2011.
“You do not know whether any information has been added to these records?” the defense lawyer asked.
“I did not notice any additional information,” P-501 said. The public examination stopped there. The chamber thought the answers were too risky for the witness; the day was therefore finished in private session.
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.