Called to the witness stand of the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial on Tuesday, February 14, Witness P-46 did not testify. The debate between the various parties concerning the modalities of the witness’s protection could not be settled and his appearance was postponed.
The witness who was due to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, February 14, seemed to be an important witness. With “391 pages” of testimony and 12 hours of hearing scheduled, the file looked voluminous and dense. On Monday, Emmanuel Altit, Laurent Gbagbo’s lawyer, had also asked for a further delay to study this file, with the possibility that the start of the interrogation could be postponed to Wednesday, to which the Chamber replied in the negative: “The parties must always be ready to continue the examination.”
The hearing on Tuesday began with questions related to Witness P-46‘s immunity or non-immunity. His legal counsel, Mr. Laucci, filed various applications for protective measures applicable “throughout his appearance.” There were requests concerning the non-disclosure of his identity, the guarantee of non-incrimination, or even partial or total in camera when faced with questions through which he could be identified. Laucci considered that this witness, apparently in office in Côte d’Ivoire, could present “risks of prosecution before the Ivorian authorities.”
The media coverage of the remarks made by witnesses before the chamber was also discussed. A name deemed confidential during Witness P-45’s testimony of February 8 and publicly uttered by a defense lawyer who had been called to order, was allegedly revealed in the press, despite Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser’s order not to disclose it. This leak seemed to have aroused mistrust in the courtroom.
“A witness is not in the dock”
The question of witness protection carries central issues concerning the trials at the ICC, such as the exposure of the debates in the courtroom. Even though closed door hearings are not conducive to transparency, some believe that they sometimes allow witnesses to express themselves more freely, and thus to say more.
The prosecutor’s representative, Eric MacDonald, approving the application for a closed session when relevant, argued that it was not necessary to apply a different regime to this witness. “His identity must be public. A witness is not in the dock,” he reminded the court.
For his part, Altit considered that the functions of the witness “made it impossible to prosecute in Côte d’Ivoire. The only useful tool here is the closed session, at the risk of undermining the sacrosanct agreement on the publicity of debates.” He also stated that “testimony is the responsibility of the witness.”
Geert-Jan Knoops, a lawyer representing Blé Goudé, added, “Protection against self-incrimination can never be applied immediately to the totality of the testimony. This is contrary to the basis of the procedure and could open the door to abusive applications.”
The chamber then met at length to rule on these motions, but ultimately failed to decide. “The decision on the requests made by the witness’s counsel proves more complicated than expected. We are still debating the substance,” said Judge Tarfusser. P-46’s testimony has thus been postponed until tomorrow.
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.