Witness: ‘We Were Asked to Pledge Allegiance to Gbagbo’

Brédou M’Bia is a significant witness. The written testimony of this high-ranking Ivorian police officer, who was on duty at the time of the post-election crisis, is almost 400 pages and contains 333 documents. His interrogation is expected to last at least another week.

The duration of the hearings is continually lengthened to complete Bredou M’Bia’s testimony. A Director-General of the National Police until January 2017, he is the 34th witness in the trial of the former Ivorian President and his Youth Minister for crimes against humanity. After interrogating him for nine hours and 30 minutes, the prosecution had not concluded by Friday and even suggested to an exhausted courtroom that they start the hearing earlier on Monday.

“I feel like a dentist pulling out a tooth”

The hearing on February 17 was punctuated by closed-door sessions and gave rise to numerous sparring matches between the prosecution and the defense. Lawyers for Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé-Goudé rose repeatedly, interrupting prosecution lawyer Eric McDonald’s interrogation, when they felt his questions were too directive.

“You’re putting words in his mouth,” lamented Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit.

For his part the prosecutor, speaking to the witness, made a rather unfortunate comparison: “I feel like a dentist pulling out a tooth.”

Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser played referee between these altercations and got terribly irritated by these repeated interruptions that ate into the allotted time. “We are not going to play ping pong,” he said, inviting the prosecutor to “radically” change the way he asked questions.

The prosecution turned again to December 2, 2010, when the results of the presidential election were proclaimed, a day that M’Bia first interpreted as the president’s inauguration, which actually took place on December 4.

“There were all the high-ranking commanders, including myself,” he said.

In fact, there was a summons from the Chief of Staff, Philippe Mangou, who asked him to pledge allegiance to President Gbagbo. “General Bi Poin and I said this was not normal, that we disagreed, and we went back to our offices. At 6 pm, we were called back and told that we were not asked to give our opinions but to pledge allegiance,” said M’Bia to the ICC investigators in 2001. He added that he did, by “mimicry,” by simply copying the other high-ranking officers.

Minister orders the dispersal of demonstrators

But the discussion on Friday was mainly on the December 16, 2010 march towards the Ivorian Radio-Television (RTI), the pillar of the regime in place, a march led by Alassane Ouattara supporters, banned and repressed by Ivorian security forces (FDS) loyal to Gbagbo. M’Bia’s position at the time suggested that he was at the forefront of events and operations, and the prosecution dwelt at length on this fact.

“Were you aware of this RHDP march before December 16?” asked McDonald.

“No, we got this information on the very day it took place,” the witness answered.

“Were you instructed to prepare for this march?”

“No, those who had initiated the march had not notified the police. But as we got wind of an event, we could not just sit back, and we made arrangements.”

On that day, M’Bia said he was in his office: “I supervised the march, listened to the police radio,” adding that “the Prefect, supported by the Director of Intervention Units Claude Yoro, led the operations.”

The Minister of the Interior, Emile Guiriéoulou, informed by M’Bia himself by telephone of the events, allegedly gave no radio instructions. “To my knowledge, he never intervened,” the witness said.

It was Guirieoulou, however, who ordered the dispersal of the marchers, which was his responsibility only in cases of armed demonstrations, not of “normal” demonstrations.

“Was it not a normal demonstration, then?” asked Judge Tarfusser.

“Policemen were killed by firearms, therefore, it was not a normal demonstration,” M’Bia retorted.

“Neutrality is now out of the question”

Even though the witness acknowledged that there were deaths during the march, he nevertheless stated that “according to all reports there were no deaths on the ground but following evacuation to the CHU.”

However, the prosecution had several reports of dead found on roadways and sought to determine whether these deaths were caused by weapons other than tear-gas grenades usually available to the police.

“We only used tear-gas grenades,” the witness said. The deaths however seemed to have been caused by explosive grenades.

“Were international journalists assaulted by the security forces during the march?” McDonald asked.

“No, quite to the contrary, it was the marchers who assaulted a journalist that the police accompanied to the hospital” said M’Bia, less and less cooperative.

“We talked about three journalists from France who had been robbed of their cameras,” the Prosecutor added.

“I do not confirm this information,” responded the witness.

“Was Gbagbo under pressure from international organizations concerning civilians who had died during the march?” the prosecutor continued.

“I don’t know.”

The prosecution also broadcast the excerpt of a television news report on the tour of barracks M’Bia made to congratulate his troops following the December 16, 2010 march.

“You were asked to be neutral throughout the campaign. Today, the Constitutional Chamber has decided and Laurent Gbagbo is the President of Côte d’Ivoire. The police’s mission is to support the institutions, and neutrality is now totally out of the question,” he said to his police officers.

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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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