International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

The Women’s March at the Heart of Obiénéré Ouattara’s Testimony

Questioned by the prosecution, witness Barthélémy Obiénéré Ouattara talked about the Abobo women’s march on Friday, September 2. The women’s march is an event included in the charges against the two accused, Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, who are on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Then the defense then took over…

The morning of March 3, 2011, “I saw three ladies who carried placards,” recalled the witness in response to questioning by prosecution lawyer Eric McDonald. “They intended to march to demand freedom” and headed for Adjamé to join a large gathering of women.

Before continuing his story, the former head of the Abobo Commando Camp was asked to provide some background information. The witness reported that at that time, a command post was established in the Abobo camp to bring together the various security forces. Several police and army units had joined the camp, now under the responsibility of a senior army officer, Commander Toualy Williams.

Like every morning, on this March 3, units left the scene, forming a train of vehicles moving towards the Agban camp to take over. Shortly after the departure of the vehicles, “I received a phone call telling me that our men had fired shots on women,” said the witness, adding that his unit was not part of the convoy of incriminated vehicles. “Other people called me to tell me that the convoy had come under gunfire and responded to this attack.”

The witness testified that  he deserted his post after people were killed in the Abobo march.

According to witness’s statements, as the vehicles drove by, men hidden among the women’s group “opened fire.” Other testimonies also report “staging” showing women killed or injured by bullets by the police. “My colleagues made an effort to exonerate the train elements,” said the witness.

Even if he did not know what really happened, it was on that day that Barthélémy Obiénéré decided to desert his position. “I realized that there had been loss of life,” he said, referring to the deaths of eight women from bullets wounds. “I told myself that I could be associated with these facts and that was what prompted me to leave the barracks,” he concluded. On that March 3, 2011, he therefore went to the French armed forces barracks before joining the Golf Hotel the next morning.

After this particular story of March 3, the defense finally took over to question the witness in the early afternoon. Mr. O’Shea, counsel for Laurent Gbagbo, focused his questions on the safety of the security forces in Abobo camp, the procedures in case of incidents, and the armed forces’ potential lack of resources.

“We were vulnerable in more ways than one” the witness said, noting however that his unit had weapons and ammunition in sufficient quantities. The defense lawyer ended the day by asking the witness about rebel positions in Abobo. The cross-examination will continue with this issue on Monday morning.

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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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