Suspended since March 16, hearings in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial resumed on Monday, March 27, at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Witness P-10, whose identity was expected to be disclosed, turned out to be Georges Guiai Bi Poin. The former Head of the Security Operations Command Center (CECOS) followed the former Director of the Ivorian Gendarmerie in testifying.
Described as a central witness, the Ivorian Georges Guiai Bi Poin, 63, appeared at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. A retired general, he was the only officer in charge of the Security Operations Command Center, known as CECOS, from its creation in 2005 to its disbanding in April 2011 after Alassane Ouattara assumed power. Appointed by Chief of Staff Philippe Mangou, he combined this function with that of Commander of the Gendarmerie School in Abidjan.
A witness who reframed the interrogation
Asked to answer this question, Guiai Bi Poin quickly spoke about the judicial prosecution he was subjected to by the Ouattara regime. “There was so much of it that I do not know where to begin. I was prosecuted for robbery and for assault on State security with many counts. Examining magistrates investigated me, questioned me, and charged me, but I am still free.”
After the usual recommendations by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, the former CECOS Commander was sworn in before starting a testimony that was expected to last for several days. “I swear to tell the truth, nothing but the truth.”
Prosecution lawyer Melissa Pack opened her questions on the fact that Gendarmerie School students could be made available to the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) in case of conflict in the country, which was mentioned in the testimony of Edouard Kassaraté, who had expressed opposition to it. “The Gendarmerie School was a reserve for times of crisis, and a law provided for this. Second-year students and officers who had been trained in a military school could be used to reinforce intervention units throughout the territory,” said Guiai Bi Poin.
Not showing great self-confidence in front of her witness, Pack sought to establish how CECOS worked. Wearing a blue jacket, white shirt, and polka dot tie, at ease in the court, the former head of this elite unit repeatedly reframed the questions asked by the representative of the prosecution, sometimes taking the reins of the examination.
CECOS had at its disposal neither its men nor its weapons
CECOS emerged as a structure with a chain of command and missions hard to understand, with a command center established to “fight against crime and delinquency in the communes of Abidjan,” placed under the control of the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense. It was composed of men from the FDS. Described as complementary to the Gendarmerie by Edouard Kassaraté, it was depicted in another way by Guiai Bi Poin. “The Gendarmerie and police were doing exactly the same thing, and CECOS was added to reinforce them. It also watched over the security of property and people.”
According to the details given today, CECOS did not have its own men, but those provided by the police, the Gendarmerie, and the Army; men whom Guiai Bi Poin described as either “under the command of their organic unit” or under CECOS command. From 1,500 people at the start, the number allegedly “went down to less than 1,200 men in 2010 to 2011, with 50 percent gendarmes, 45 percent policemen, and 5 percent military.”
Divided into five sectors, CECOS was headed by five commanders under Guiai Bi Poin. “Each one had a group of 200 under his authority.” The general then explained that he had set up two structures within the CECOS: the law enforcement brigade (BMO) and a support group set up to “secure the motorway north of Abidjan, because there were many robberies that often ended in murders.”
Anselme favored storming into the President’s palace
Like the Gendarmerie and the police, CECOS has been described as relatively deprived. Its weapons were also provided by the FDS. “Since we had a major weapons problem in Côte d’Ivoire, under embargo from the creation of CECOS in 2005, the Gendarmerie, the Army, and the police were reluctant to release their weapons. It was the same with ammunition, we were tightly rationed.”
“Did CECOS have offensive and defensive grenades?” Judge Tarfusser wanted to know.
“Not to my knowledge,” replied the general.
Finally, questioned on the content of the meetings held “every day or every other days” at the President’s Office during the crisis, in the presence of Gbagbo and his close circle, Guiai Bi Poin revealed that Simone Gbagbo’s former security head, Anselme Séka Yapo, had intervened at one of these meetings. “He told us how he thought operations at Abobo could be more effective and defeat the Invisible Commando. His approach was different from the chief of staff’s. He wanted to act more intensively, with more troops. Our analysis was that we were in a situation of asymmetrical confrontations, and there was nothing to distinguish the population from the Invisible Commando. So we could not systematically shoot the crowd.”
This intervention by Anselme Séka Yapo, introduced by Philippe Mangou, did not seem to have been to the liking of all generals. “We asked the chief of staff not to allow anyone to come and give us his vision of the strategy to adopt,” he said before the day’s hearing closed.
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.