After the testimony of the former Director-General of the Ivorian police in February, now it is the former Commander of the National Gendarmerie’s turn to answer prosecution questions in the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial. The Ivorian Gendarmerie was under tight scrutiny Thursday.
“He’s a key witness. He knows everything that happened.” In the public gallery overlooking the courtroom, a lady who came to support the man she called “our President,” Laurent Gbagbo, expected much from the testimony of Edouard Tiapé Kassaraté to understand what happened during the post-electorion crisis, and she was not the only one.
Kassaraté, a witness from the inside
As head of the Ivorian Gendarmerie at the time of the events, Kassaraté is a witness from the inside. The fact that he had long worked alongside the former president placed him at a vantage point in the events. “Every time the President of the Republic moved, the Director of Police, the Chief of Staff, and I were in the delegation,” he said.
Yet this day of testimony, primarily devoted to the examination of the Gendarmerie, did not bring any revelations. However, the chain of command was to be established, and in doing so the responsibilities of the protagonists involved in the case.
As had been done with the former Ivorian Police boss, the representative of prosecution, Alexis Demirdjian, sought to establish the typology of the Gendarmerie. A structure that consisted of 17,000 men in October 2010, the witness said, describing it as “a photocopy of the French Gendarmerie.” He also said at the end of the day that the Army, the Police, and the Gendarmerie were then undermanned.
Under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense, to whom Kassaraté transmitted information from the field, the Gendarmerie received instructions from the Chief of Staff, namely Philippe Mangou. “In the case of a crisis or serious events, the General Staff is responsible for planning operations, and we execute its orders.” At the top of the pyramid, President Gbagbo, “who directs and coordinates defense policy,” is informed of the events “by General Tivoli, his special Chief of Staff.”
“A football game to bring back peace”
The Gendarmerie forces, placed before the police and behind the army by order of power, were closely scrutinized: missions, hierarchy, links with the Defense and Security Forces (FDS), organization chart, modes of communication, and disciplinary network. “Discipline is the strength of the army, and every leader has the imperious need to enforce it while remaining in compliance with the law,” said Kassaraté.
He then explained the investigative powers of the Gendarmerie, concerning “violations committed by all military or civilian citizens,” and therefore by the FDS. When Demirdjian asked him if he had been informed of offenses committed in the Gendarmerie, Kassaraté returned the situation, vaguely referring to clashes in Yopougon.
“Unidentified armed individuals attacked gendarmes and soldiers who fired back, and there were deaths of men,” the witness said.
The police then allegedly carried out an investigation, which he said never produced any results. He then talked about an attack on gendarmes by soldiers who wanted their weapons: “I had to organize a football match to bring back peace.”
Prosecution documents make waves
What made the most waves in the court on Thursday was the documents submitted to the former Gendarmerie boss by the prosecution, and this gave rise to some opaque answers. In the face of these documents, the witness said: “I do not remember,” “I do not recognize him,” “I think it is a forgery,” or “I do not deny the contents, but I do not recognize my signature,” considering it “incomplete,” “not in conformity with mine,” “imitated,” “not entirely transcribed.”
The defense, however, often interrupted the prosecution’s examination to challenge the way the witness was questioned on these documents.
“We should first authenticate them before asking substantive questions,” lamented Jean-Serges Gbougnon, one of the lawyers representing Blé Goudé.
Finally, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser nervously tapping the table voiced aloud a thought that had apparently plagued him for a long time: “We always work with photocopies. I do not understand why the prosecutor’s office does not keep the originals and leave the photocopies at the source. This situation prevents technical examinations.”
He asked the senior officer to put his signature once and for all on a white sheet of paper for subsequent comparisons.
A charismatic witness, the highly qualified Kassaraté precisely answered technical questions but was evasive when confronted with the facts. His behavior was mentioned in his absence, and in closed session, at the request of Judge Tarfusser who said to him at the end of the day: “I remind you that you are here to tell the truth.”
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.