Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Trial: Former Ivorian Gendarmerie Commander Before the Court

Suspended on March 6 following the dismissal of counsel for Witnesses P-10 and P-11, the hearing resumed on Wednesday in The Hague. It was a brief session, just enough time to introduce the new prosecution witness who had been expected since Monday and who was none other than Edouard Tapié Kassaraté. This high-ranking officer, a member of Gbagbo’s inner circle who subsequently pledged allegiance to Alassane Ouattara, will testify for several days.

On Monday, March 6, lawyers for Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé-Goudé intervened as soon as the trial resumed, requesting the disqualification of Fabian Raimondo on grounds of conflict of interests. Defense lawyers Geert-Jan Knoops and Emmanual Altit both pointed out that the Argentine lawyer, who was to assist witnesses P-10 and P-11 during their testimony, had already collaborated with the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in 2012 and therefore with the prosecution.

This request was heard by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, who forthwith dismissed the witnesses’ counsel, ordered the Registry to immediately appoint a new one, and postponed the hearing to March 8. Judge Tarfusser also told Fabian Raimondo that the fact that he did not inform the chamber of this previous involvement in the case could make him “responsible for a breach of duty under the Code of Professional Conduct.”

“You have but one thing to do, tell us the truth”

Following this new twist that caused further delay in the trial, which Judge Tarfusser humorously described as a “false start,” the hearing resumed, to introduce the witness who, until then, was named P-10.

This witness was, as expected, Edouard Tiapé Kassaraté, a native of the west of the country and ethnically a Kroumen, 67 years old today, the head of the national gendarmerie during the 2010-2011post-electorion crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. At his side to accompany him throughout his testimony and protect him from the risk of self-incrimination, was the Dutch legal adviser Julius von Boné, newly appointed by the Registry.

“Your testimony will never be used against you in any subsequent proceedings before this court. Your counsel will be very vigilant and you can also ask for partial closed sessions,” Judge Tarfusser said.

“You were summoned here to help the chamber in their quest for truth, and there’s only one thing you have to do, tell us the truth,” the Judge went on, warning him that false testimony was a crime. Often responding “affirmative” to the questions asked, the former high-ranking Ivorian gendarmerie was then sworn in.

Prosecution lawyer Alexis Demirdjian’s preliminary questions began to trace the course of a multi-graduate general, who entered the gendarmerie in Abidjan 40 years ago. Kassaraté, who held a license in Letters (B.A.) from Toulon, was trained at Saint-Cyr in Paris and the Hanover Staff School, among other places. After serving as an officer on the Ivorian National Security Council, he was the military commander of the Presidential Palace from 2000 to 2005.

“Who appointed you to this post?” asked the representative of the prosecutor.

“President Laurent Gbagbo,” replied Kassaraté.

Kassaraté and Gbagbo meet again at the ICC

Generally described as a follower of Gbagbo, Kassaraté was until 2011 Head of the Gendarmerie, a powerful elite body in Cote d’Ivoire, and had in his hands the security of the country and its Head of State. In the aftermath of Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11, 2011 in Abidjan, Kassaraté pledged allegiance to Alassane Ouattara. The latter then appointed him Côte d’Ivoire’s ambassador to Senegal in August 2012.

The reunification of these two men at the International Criminal Court six years after the events was certainly not insignificant. Gbagbo was seen quietly emerging from the quiet reserve he had kept for weeks, looking several times at his former collaborator with a smile that only he could interpret.

Interrogation by the prosecution, whom Judge Tarfusser asked to be as concise as possible, was scheduled to last until next Monday.

“It’s impossible to finish on Friday, there’s too much to talk about, with very important issues,” lead prosecutor Eric MacDonald said.

The days ahead are likely to be dense and the atmosphere heavy.

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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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