The 34th prosecution witness in the Gbagbo-Blé Goudé trial, former Ivorian police chief Bredou M’Bia, continued his testimony on Monday, February 20, at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He has been in court since February 15 and has already very much informed the chamber.
This was the fourth hearing day for Bredou M’Bia. As with many witnesses, the personality of this former Ivorian police official during the 2010-2011 crisis had been appearing more and more clearly hour after hour and question after question. Sitting calmly at his table, this high-ranking officer, about whom it was now discovered that he had sometimes expressed opinions that diverged from those of his hierarchy, did not seem to have shown blind docility.
Sackings and dismissals
It was learned this morning this he and three of his hierarchical counterparts had requested an interview with the former President Laurent Gbagbo to ask him “unanimously” to withdraw in early 2011. “There was the Ministers of Youth, Foreign Affairs, the Interior and Defense. We told him that we did not want him to continue to perform his duties and asked him to withdraw if possible,” said M’Bia.
“What was Laurent Gbagbo’s answer?” asked prosecution lawyer Eric McDonald.
“He did not answer, but he just said ‘I’ve understood’,” responded M’Bia.
Discussing movements within the State apparatus, the defense interrogation talked about the dismissal of Youssouf Kouyaté, then Abidjan Deputy-Prefect of police in January 2011. The reason for this resignation, which was forced by Gbagbo and his close allies, was that Kouyaté was represented by the rebel Chérif Ousmane at his father’s funeral, which he was unable to attend.
“They had established a relationship between them,” M’Bia said, adding that in his opinion he had “not committed any fault.”
Emmanuel Altit, Gbagbo’s lead defense lawyer, also turned back to the fact that M’Bia himself was recently dismissed, on January 11, 2017 after nine years of service, to clarify the reasons for his departure. According to M’Bia this departure followed “the mood of the Ivorian soldiers and their demands regarding the bonuses they were claiming for, which is something I do not wish to comment on.”
“We had no more ammunition”
Altit’s questions about the means of the police again brought up a rather grim situation. “The police-population ratio was very low and did not allow us to fight effectively against crime,” said the witness, who allegedly made several requests in this regard since the means allocated remained unchanged between 2005 and the crisis. For example, regarding the Riot Squad, he described tanks with “ordinary and vulnerable tires whose weak shielding serves only for the maintenance of law and order.”
Things were not better with weapons. “The police do not have lethal weapons. In the midst of the crisis we were under embargo, and we had no more ammunition. Neither did we have enough pistols, and this was a big handicap.”
It was the same thing for radio communications: “We lacked means, and without radio, an element on the ground does not know what’s going on.”
This inventory of the situation was in line with the description given a few days earlier by witness P-560, who had talked of a “grim state of affairs.”
Describing “numerous attacks on police stations with a few Kalaches to defend themselves,” M’Bia repeatedly deplored the loss of some forty police officers during the crisis. “I cannot say if these attacks were carried out by rebels but when the crisis ended, the masks came off, and it seemed that IB was the originator of it all,” he said. Ibrahim Coulibaly, known as IB, was the leader of the Invisible Commando.
Left to his own devices in the bush
When Brédou M’Bia was invited to talk about March 31, 2011, after the rebels entered Yopougon, his story was epic. That day he was forced to flee “because the police could no longer protect themselves, and all the commanders had to leave their posts.”
He explained that he was unable to reach his Chief of Staff and contacted the Head of the DCI (International Cooperation Department) responsible for the French forces stationed in Port Bouët at the 43rd BIMA (one of the naval corps). He then spent three days in this military camp, assigned to a room and stated that he could not affirm “that the French military forces bombed the Ivorian military forces.”
Altit tried to make him say that he joined those at the Golf Hotel, where Alassane Ouattara and his supporters had retreated.
“No, on the fourth day, I was offered to go to the Hotel du Golf, and I refused,” he said.
The police chief was then dropped “in the bush behind Abidjan airport” by the French forces, and left to his own devices before reaching a village not far from there.
This new day of testimony, led by the prosecution and then by the defense, included more information that the closed sessions made confidential. It ended with the contact that had been established between the former DGPN and the ICC investigators.
“Who asked you to cooperate?” asked Altit.
M’Bia responded, “My hierarchy.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Gbagbo’s lawyer had asked him, “What about you? What party are you in?”
“I’m a policeman, I do not have a party,” the witness replied without blinking.
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.