The Defense to Witness: “You Have Memory Problems, Sir”

This morning, the courtroom, almost deserted by the audience, is quiet again. Charles Blé-Goudé, who was absent yesterday due to health problems, is back again. The examination of witness Salif Ouedraogo continued and was concluded at the end of the day.

On Tuesday, February 7, in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial, which was conducted with the same strong desire for efficiency shown yesterday by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, saw the continuation and end of Witness P-106 examination. Aged 42, and injured when he tried to join the march on RTI, Salif Ouedraogo spoke openly, with his face uncovered. He owned a spare parts business in the Abobo neighborhood in Abidjan at the time of the post-election violence in 2010 and 2011. Today, we learned that he held the position of Third Deputy Chairman of the Côte d’Ivoire Scrap Merchants’ Trade Association (SYNAFCI).

The defense also tested the witness’s credibility, while trying to learn more about the violence in Abobo as well as his knowledge of the Côte d’Ivoire Student Federation (FESCI) and the Invisible Commando.

“You undertook to tell the truth”

The hearing was again plagued by various language problems, which made the exchanges fastidious, and the witness’s answers difficult to understand. The Presiding Judge repeatedly asked the witness to speak “clearly, distinctly, without muttering,” and reminded him that he had “undertaken to tell the truth.” For their part, Gbagbo’s and Blé-Goudé’s defense lawyers, Andreas O’Shea and Jean-Serge Bougnon, pointed out “date and memory problems.”

To explain his forgetfulness and lack of precision when answering questions, Ouedraogo repeatedly insisted on the fact that he’d never attended school: “I can neither read nor write. I cannot take notes; I must always keep everything in my heard.”

He also repeated that his accident during the march on the RTI had a serious and lasting effect on him. “After I got injured, I no longer am a normal man, I’ve lost my head. Certain things slip my memory. My memory’s got all mixed up,” he said.

Ouedraogo’s answers were still vague and in discordance with a detailed and concrete testimony. This was why the defense repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to know more about the context of the witness’s testimony before investigators from the Office of the Prosecutor in Abidjan.

A bad film: a video shot in Kenya raises a debate

These memory problems were the cause of a new, surrealist scene when came the time to redefine the witness’s itinerary during the march on the RTI, as well as details of how he was evacuated by “friends” to Yopougon University Hospital (CHU), “unconscious” but “sitting on a motorbike.” Then this gave rise to a ‘cartographic imbroglio’ with the judges, who did not know Abidjan and a witness who said he did know “the place very well” but gave indirect answers to questions.

A video showing people being burned alive, which the witness allegedly gave to the investigators, telling them it had been shot in Yopougon when he had witnessed abuses, was the focus of the day’s debates. “This video has been analyzed, and the conclusion was that it has nothing to do with post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire but was shot in Kenya. This is negligence on the part of the prosecution, and we apologize to the conflicting parties,” declared the lawyer from the  prosecution, Lucio Garcia, at the opening of the hearing this morning.

However, for the defense, the question was why the witness had presented the video to investigators while he had allegedly deleted others he had filmed in Côte d’Ivoire. Consequently, the defense had at length questioned the witness on the reason for, the nature of these images and where they came from. As all questions relating to the said video were not answered at the end of the day, it was requested that the investigators concerned be “called before the chamber for examination.”

The witness is active in a trade association, but not in politics

The defense also probed the witness to see if he had had any political implication in post-election events and played a special part in his Trade Association (SYNAFCI). They sought to know if this “lucrative” Association might have organized strikes or marches in the country and if its economic interests might have “interacted with Ivorian political parties” and thus made him wield some influence. The witness’s answers were always negative. “We were apolitical,” he insisted.

For his part, Ouedraogo accused, though without producing any proof, Blé-Goudé of calling the youths “to take up arms to defend the country,” of being an FESCI leader and financing this student organization, even as he stated that he did not know FESCI leaders, except for one of their members called Roujo.

The witness’s memory seems to have failed him again during the hearing, a memory that varied according to facts and questions. What is still not known is to what should one ascribe the confusion, errors in dates, contradictions, and approximations that plagued this new testimony.

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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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