Laurent Gbagbo’s defense questioned at length Aurélie Fuchs, on Tuesday, September 20, at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN employee, who worked in the field of human rights in Abidjan during the post-election crisis, discussed gathering evidence from alleged victims and the security situation in the country at the time.
The credibility of the testimonies collected by the former volunteer in the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was at the heart of the questioning conducted by Laurent Gbagbo’s defense. During the post-election crisis, Aurélie Fuchs worked in a call center, set up by the UN operation to take calls from victims of human rights violations. Gbagbo’s lawyers sought to know if people heard on the phone could be considered reliable and what were the mechanisms for verifying what they said.
Besides the cross-checking of evidence, Fuchs mentioned the monitoring that was put in place. This meant calling back the people or going directly to the field to meet them. In particular, following an event considered as important, “We tried to have the version of the authorities, but contacts were limited,” said Fuchs.
A version of the conflict gathered by UNOCI
The defense then asked the witness about the confidentiality of talks during field missions. Fuchs admitted that all confidentiality procedures were “not respected.”
“The circumstances prevented it,” she justified, explaining that most of these conversations lasted about 10 minutes, while they were standing in the street and in the middle of a group. This was the case with the March 3 witnesses. After receiving stories over the telephone reporting the repression of a women’s march, Fuchs participated in a mission on the ground a few days later.
“Were the alleged perpetrators interviewed?” asked the defense. “Not to my knowledge,” said the witness who says she was, for her part, responsible for collecting statements by witnesses and victims.
“Did you hear only one version of the conflict?” asked Andreas O’Shea, one of Gbagbo’s lawyers.
“I personally had only one version,” replied the Human Rights Advisor, adding that the rest of the team might have had access to other accounts.
Armed groups came to the rescue of President-elect
Another topic addressed by the defense was the evolution of the security situation over the months in Abidjan. Asked about the reasons for her second evacuation in April 2011, Fuchs pointed to the “degradation” of the security situation, citing “exchange of fire” and grenade explosions. “Some neighborhoods were controlled by loyalist forces and others by armed groups,” she said.
As for the UN involvement in the fighting, the witness said she learned through a report that the UN force had “exchanged fire,” but did not know with which group.
Fuchs also discussed “the situation in the west and armed people coming down from the north.” Among these men, several groups were mentioned by the witness including “Dozos” and the “Invisible Commando,” she herself met in Abidjan.
Asked to define the “Invisible Commando,” the former UN volunteer talked about a “group of armed men under the command of IB [Ibrahim Coulibaly] and who, in their own words, were there to liberate the country and so that the elected President could exercise his functions.”
These men were “heavily armed” with military guns and small rocket launchers, said the witness, who also mentioned “atrocities” they committed, citing illegal detention of priests and seminarians. The examination of the witness should be completed tomorrow with the last questions by Gbagbo’s defense with further cross-examination from Charles Blé Goudé’s lawyers.