Witness Turns the Hearing into a Political Forum

A new witness appeared at the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé on Thursday, October 24. This was Mr. Ben Soumahoro Vaphings, an RDR member, shot and wounded during the march on the RTI on December 16, 2010.

A bullet in the thigh, never dislodged. Called to testify, Ben Soumahoro Vaphings recounted how the December 16, 2010 events had “turned his life upside down.” When questioned by the prosecution about the consequences of this injury, the man did not hide his emotion.

“Every time I feel pain, I have the memories that come back to me of the barbarity of that day,” he said. “I live with it and it gnaws at me,” said the witness, explaining that he lost his younger brother during the march.

The public will not know more about the circumstances of these tragedies. The entirety of the witness’s account was made in writing and added to the file, and the parties did not return to the course of events. The representative of the Office of the Prosecutor only presented a few documents in support of the witness’s testimony: radiographs, medical certificates, or death certificates.

A complex discussion and speeches by the Presiding Judge

Laurent Gbagbo’s defense took over immediately to interrogate Ben Soumahoro Vaphings. Andreas O’Shea, one of the accused’s lawyers, wanted to know more about the identity of the witness, his relationship with the Office of the Prosecutor, or his political commitment. The discussion was very complex, as Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser had to intervene on several occasions to clarify the issues or to direct the witness to answer.

“This is too heavy on me, it tires me,” said Ben Soumahoro Vaphing.

Without losing patience, the defense questioned the witness at length about his role in the Rally of Republicans (RDR). The witness confirmed that he had been a member of the party since its creation in 1994. His function was “core committee chairman.” Beyond this affiliation, the activist is also president of the Rassemblement des grins de Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo’s defense took the opportunity to ask many questions about how these groups were organized and how they functioned.

No relationship between the rebellion and the RDR according to the witness

Returning to the post-election period, O’Shea then questioned the witness about the relationship between the political organization and the rebellion. But the militant firmly denied any “cooperation” with the rebels. He insisted that the party’s objective was to “win the elections in a democratic way,” not without provoking ironic smiles from Laurent Gbagbo.

From that point on, the hearing turned into a political forum, despite frequent calls to order from the presiding judge. The witness spoke about the “magnificent” campaign in the first round of elections and denounced the curfew put in place for the second round. “That is not democracy,” he criticized, before being challenged by Judge Tarfusser, who called for “facts.”

Eventually, asked to come back to December 16, the witness testified that he took part in organizing the march. He swore that the only objective was to “mobilize the militants and come together to say no to one-track thinking.”

The witness assured that according to the instructions he had received at the time, the slogan had never been to “take the RTI by force.” According to him, the aim was to “let all Ivorians have access” to this public channel. The defense lawyer did not hide his skepticism about the witness’s answers. Showing a video of Guillaume Soro calling on the rebel troops to take the RTI, the lawyer wanted to know how, having such a political commitment, the witness could have missed this information.

 

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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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