International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

The Police Chief Who Knew Very Little

The questioning of Witness P-560, currently working at the Ivorian police headquarters, continued on Monday, February 13, at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The prosecution and the defense conducted their interrogation quicker than expected, and his testimony was completed by midday.

Adamo Bonaventure Guillaume Séverin, a witness currently serving in the Directorate-General of the Ivorian Police, received a special protection measure during his testimony. He was accompanied by a lawyer to avoid self-incrimination. After the prosecution’s interrogation by prosecution lawyer Lucio Garcia last Friday, he was questioned on Monday by the defense of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.

From September 17, 2010 to March 9, 2011, Witness P-560, the head of the Adjamé district in the north of Abidjan, worked in a national police still under the control of Laurent Gbagbo. He was then in charge maintaining law and order and had under his responsibility the police stations of seven arrondissements. Asked about this, he described his service as “rather lackluster” regarding the equipment and the number of personnel in service and presented himself as a peaceful person, preferring “exchange” to the use of force in the face of breaches of public order.

“Some difficulty in saying things”

On March 10, 2011, after seven months as the head of his district, he took up his duties at the Criminal Police Headquarters as an investigator, a position he held at the time of the change of presidency when Alassane Ouattara was sworn-in in May 2011. He then said that he had proceeded with his duties normally within a department whose staff allegedly remained virtually unchanged.

“You stayed at the same post and that was it?” Emmanual Altit asked, surprised.

“Yes,” the witness said.

“Were you in charge of investigating rape, abuses, or killings committed by rebels?” Gbagbo’s lawyer went on.

“No, because that required some experience,” responded the witness.

The witness’s role during the post-election crisis suggested that when he came to the ICC courtroom he might be in possession of significant information. However, when the defense revisited his experience and probed his knowledge, his answers remained vague. As the defense sought to know how police services operated, how they were organized, how they communicated, their hierarchy, and the nature and reliability of the reports to headquarters, the information from the witness was not very explicit.

“Have you had any contact with Golf Hotel or with the rebels, were you approached by the Ouattara camp or by French civilian or military personnel?” Altit asked.

“No,” said the policeman.

In a chain ranging from the police prefect to men on the ground, information rarely seemed to reach him. “The witness has some difficulty saying things,” the defense said to the chamber.

When Adamo Bonaventure William Séverin mentioned a disease that allegedly affected him during and after the crisis, the defense probed still further. He had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and was often obliged to leave his job to go to medical appointments and allegedly took a month’s sick leave shortly after his new assignment to the criminal police.

“During the crisis or as of April 11, were the police forces attacked by the French army,” asked Altit.

“To my knowledge, no. But I did not set foot in the office at that time. I was getting medical care, and I was not informed. I do not know who killed whom,” Séverin said.

“I was not informed”

Many answers were given in the same way. Referring to a report from the Abobo district on clashes between the Rally of Republicans (RDR) and the Ivorian Defense and Security Forces (FDS), which reportedly had three people killed and two kidnapped on the side of the police, Altit asked the witness if he had any information on this.

“You were one of the police officers at that time, with a lot of policemen under your command, but you do not know who killed these policemen?” Altit asked.

“No I was not informed, it was not my district and everyone managed their district,” said the witness.

Asking more personal questions, the defense talked about “the attack on Anonkoua Kouté,” one of the two villages where the witness lived and where he still had family.

“Yes the villagers said it was rebels who had attacked the village, but I do not know because many of my family members fled and I was not there,” he said.

During his testimony, which was completed before the scheduled time, Séverin paid lip service to the names of Ouattara and Gbagbo, only when he was obliged to. He often repeated “I do not know” or “I did not have this information.” Not showing a burning curiosity for the events in which he was plunged as a policeman, Witness P-560 remained at a distance and appeared to have opted for caution in his testimony. According to the prosecution and the defense, information gathering proved to be rather meager.

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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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