Laurent Gbagbo’s defense began questioning the witness on Monday, November 21, at the International Criminal Court. “Junior Gbagbo,” a Liberian veteran, told of the bombing of the president’s residence in April 2011, accusing the international community of killing innocent people.
Point by point, Laurent Gbagbo’s defense went back to the statements the witness made last week before the trial chamber. Jérôme Tarlue Junior, veteran of the Lima Liberian forces, once again told the story of his flight to Cote d’Ivoire in 1990 to the 2011 post-electoral crisis. Andreas O’Shea, one of the lawyers for the accused, questioned the witness about the forces present during the war in Liberia and then during the Ivorian conflict in 2002.
The ex-combatant did not say much more but gave some information about the rebellion he was fighting alongside the Ivorian regular forces in the west of the country. The witness mentioned the rebel leaders, including Sam Bockari, nicknamed “Mosquito,” and described the fighting against heavily armed and numerous enemies who were assisted by external forces, including Burkinabe fighters.
Crisis of confidence within the armed forces
The questions finally focused on the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, during which the witness was living in Abidjan. Once again, “Junior Gbagbo” explained how he had joined the president’s residence, about four months before Laurent Gbagbo was arrested.
“God saved us so that we could get to the residence,” he said.
Assuring the court of his loyalty to the former president, the ex-combatant then referred to the crisis of confidence within the armed forces at the time, explaining that “we did not know who to trust.” The witness particularly emphasized the rather unclear role played by Séka Séka, Simone Gbagbo’s bodyguard, under whom Liberian fighters allegedly worked at the time.
Séka Séka allegedly led them in a dangerous mission at Petroci where Liberians were violently attacked.
“He left us. I could not reach him. We lost five men. I was very angry,” Junior Gbagbo added, explaining that he “did not trust” Seka Seka.
“It was thanks to people like us that the President is still alive,” repeatedly said the witness, emphasizing the “courage” and flawless “faithfulness” of Liberian fighters to Laurent Gbagbo.
The international community, a key player in the post-election crisis
Jérôme Tarlue Junior then recounted how the former president had been isolated during the post-election crisis, with his communications to the people intercepted and blocked by the international community. “Anything good he said, nobody could hear it,” lamented the witness, pointing out that on the other hand, Alassane Ouattara’s messages were relayed on the radio.
Visibly furious, the witness then took the opportunity to engage in a violent diatribe against the international community, denouncing the abuses committed by “the whites” during this crisis. “Junior Gbagbo” spoke about snipers and intensive bombing of the residence before the former president was arrested. According to him, five French and UN forces helicopters bombarded the site relentlessly, causing the death of many people.
“The international community that claims to defend humanitarian law has never shown a single photograph of the people killed in Gbagbo’s residence,” the witness said, “it was no use killing innocent people.”
“Junior Gbagbo” then denounced the international community’s “double standards.” They allegedly manipulated images to make it appear as if the pro-Ouattara had themselves arrested Laurent Gbagbo. “I may already be a dead man but I am here to tell the truth,” said Jérôme Tarlue Junior, protesting against “white interference” in African affairs.
“You’re not here to talk politics,” the Presiding Judge finally cut him off.
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.