Witness Says CECOS Fired on Unarmed Demonstrators

A new witness was called on Monday at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial. Despite his request, Sanogo Abdourahmane was denied protective measures by the trial chamber. It was with his face uncovered that this eyewitness narrated the march on the Ivorian Radio Television (RTI).

The witness watched the scene from a balcony in Williamsville, north of Abidjan, on December 16, 2010. Interrogated by the prosecution, Sanogo Abdourahmane unrolled his story. That day, he said he saw local youths take to the streets. Their goal was to support the government of Alassane Ouattara and install a new RTI Director, following a call from Guillaume Soro.

“My attention was caught by shots from automatic pistols,” said the witness. “We went out [to the balcony] to see what was happening. We saw young people moving toward the bridge,” he said, referring to the bridge connecting Williamsville to Habitat Extension.

CECOS elements allegedly targeted protesters

While young people were trying to get off on the expressway, “police vehicles arrived and prevented young people from getting off…There was some shooting,” he went on. Abdourahmane allegedly first saw a white pick-up, without a badge, carrying people in fatigues. They “started shooting,” said the witness, “at the young people who erected the barricades.” He added, “Those who were on the streets had no weapons. The shots came from the vehicles.”

Other pickups then arrived. According to the witness, these were blue vehicles bearing the CECOS (Security Operations Command Center)  badge and “machine guns” at the back. The elements on board these vehicles allegedly also fired shots, to “disperse the youths” and “clear the way for vehicles,” at the people stationed on the bridge, at the barricades, then at the demonstrators who scattered into the neighborhoods. “I formally state that the youths were unarmed. No one fired on the vehicles” repeated the witness, who filmed the whole scene from the balcony where he had positioned himself.

Videos of the witness that do not corroborate his words

Laurent Gbagbo’s defense focused on these videos. The witness explained that he had created a YouTube account to upload images to share with friends on Facebook. “The goal was not to compromise anybody” he justified himself, adding that he had not “thought a moment” that these videos could endanger him. Jennifer Naouri, one of Gbagbo’s lawyers, then questioned the witness at length about the process he followed to post them online and why he had not protected them.

“Is there any doubt that [the videos] have been uploaded or not?” the Presiding Judge  Cuno Tarfusser cut in.

“Yes,” the lawyer said. The lawyer then wanted to know why these images were not online today, while they were still online when the witness was questioned by the Office of the Prosecutor in 2015.

“We decided to remove them for security reasons…We didn’t want people to trace them back to me,” explained the witness.

“What people?” the lawyer asked. The answer to this question was given in private session.

Several of these videos, filmed at the time with an iPhone 3, were then presented to the witness. With several freeze frames, counsel asked if it was possible to distinguish the details of the pictures: how the demonstrators were dressed, where they came from, whether they carried weapons, who did the shooting, or whether an inscription was visible on one of the vehicles.

Becoming tenser as the questions came out, the witness kept giving the same answers. In the images, one could not see the details, but he said he knew what happened to him. “I know very well who did the shooting, I was there,” even though “on the videos this is not very clear,” he insisted.

“One thing is the image filtered by the video, another one is the image we can see with our own eyes. It’s totally different,” eventually interrupted Judge Tarfusser. Gbagbo’s defense will continue to examine the witness tomorrow morning, before giving the floor to Charles Blé Goudé’s lawyers.

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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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