Vague and Contradictory, the Words of Witness P-106, an Abobo Trader, Cause a Stir in the Audience

After a two-month recess, the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial resumed Monday morning at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Facing a room filled by supporters of the former Ivorian President, witness Salif Ouedraogo was questioned at length by the defense.

The Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial resumed on Monday, February 6, after a two month suspension. The long pause was due to “a budget problem,” Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser clarified. From the outset, he raised the issue of delays in this long-running case, which opened on January 28, 2016. He announced a series of measures to optimize speaking time in the courtroom and make the trial speedier.

Fewer witnesses and absence of Blé Goudé due to health reasons

The number of witnesses to come has been reduced (16 were removed from the list), and their mode of appearance has been reviewed to speed up the process. Questions by the defense must now concern the charges directly and remain factual. Finally, witnesses are often asked to confirm their statements. An amendment could be adopted to avoid this “unnecessary and time-consuming” step and come directly to the questions.

This first hearing of the year 2017 started off in the presence of Laurent Gbagbo but without Charles Blé Goudé. His lawyer,  Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops claimed a force majeure event. Following an incident while playing sports, Blé-Goudé allegedly suffered “a concussion, and this must be checked with an X-ray.”

The courtroom was packed full. Several buses arrived from Paris to support the former Ivorian president and demonstrations were held in The Hague, a few steps from the central railway station. At the ICC, supporters of Gbagbo greeted him with repeated salutes.

Not much info on the Invisible Commando

It was without protection that P-106 testified following his statements to the Office of the Prosecutor in March 2012. Born in 1975 in Burkina Faso, Salif Ouedraogo is a handyman, a jack-of-all-trades, mostly a mechanic, who ran a small shop in Abobo, which was the scene of clashes between the forces of the Invisible Commando and those of the FDS (Defense and Security Forces). Ouedraogo was wounded in the arm during his participation in the peaceful march on the RTI (Ivorian Radio) – a march he allegedly learned about through Ivorian television.

“None of my fingers is working anymore, and I was forced to stop my work,” he said at the beginning of the session.

Witness P-106 testified that he did not participate in any meetings or rallies organized by Ouattara supporters during the four months of crisis in 2010-2011. He allegedly saw corpses several times but never the perpetrators of the crimes. It was revealed throughout the day that he probably was not into politics, nor did he know much about the military affairs of Côte d’Ivoire. He said that while he could have joined the ranks of the Invisible Commando (called Fognon in Dioula, which means wind) because one of his apprentices was one of them, he declined due to his family.

“I did not want to attack or kill anyone,” the witness explained. The witness, who has never seen Gbagbo up close, has never spoken to him and defines the former president’s security agents as “people with briefcases and telephones.”

“I have a good memory, but I can’t remember”

The defense questioned him on two of the four charges: the December 16, 2010 march on the RTI and the women’s march on March 3, 2011 in Abobo. Problems of language and word interpretation made the exchanges tedious and confusing, with contradictions between the witness’s written testimony and his remarks of the day.

“You said that when you testified at the Office of the Prosecutor, there was no interpreter in your mother tongue, does that explain the difference between what you wrote and what you are saying now?” asked Andreas O’Shea.

In addition to this, the witness kept repeating throughout the interrogation: “I have a good memory, but I can’t remember that.” For example, to the question of whether he had made a financial contribution to the Invisible Commando: “I do not remember, it’s too far away,” he replied.

The defense dealt with many issues, particularly about the Invisible Commando and the demonstrators in the march on the RTI, but most of those questions remained without precise answers, even those that were more personal.

The witness, the vanished photos and the fetish

Naïve visions that cannot be said to have always been deliberate, imprecise visions, contradictions, there were some surreal moments after the hearing resumed from a break. For example, it was not possible to know what happened to the photos taken and then apparently erased by the witness during the March 3 women’s march. Were they communicated “to pro-Ouattara, to Guillaume Soro, to rebels, to the Invisible Commando,” before being deleted at the request of the victims’ relatives and imams present that day? These were photos that the witness said he saw several times on TV without having given them himself and that five years later were now nowhere to be seen, according to him.

Before the hearing of the day closed, the defense started a new line of questioning, that of fetishes, probably destined to make things still a bit more difficult for Ouedraogo. He told the story of an old man who allegedly escaped bullets fired by brigands who came to his house thanks to the fetish he had with him: “The bullets could not get into his body,” he repeated.

The courtroom reacted throughout the day to the witness’s words, breaking their silence more than once in spite of the security guards’ disapproval and a direct address from the Presiding Judge. For the witness, put in difficult position by the defense and heckled by Gbagbo’s supporters, it was probably not an easy day.

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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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