The second day of testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the former chief of the Security Operations Command Center (CECOS) was a long hearing day in which there was much talk of Commander Séka and meetings between Laurent Gbagbo and his senior officers.
At the opening of the session, prosecution lawyer Melissa Pack returned to a meeting held at the General Staff in February 2011 in the presence of all the high-ranking officials of the Ivorian state, with the exception of the Republican Guard. This was a meeting in which Commander Anselme Séka Yapo (also known as Séka-Séka) gave his vision of the strategy to be carried out against the Invisible Commando. “If officers had information to communicate, these meetings were not closed to such requests,” said General Georges Guiai Bi Poin this morning, who however had said yesterday that this intrusion was perceived as very inappropriate by the generals.
“Séka took possession of the Gendarmerie School”
“Was Major Séka involved in military operations?” asked Pack.
“Ah, that’s another problem, but if you want us to talk about it, we can,” Guiai Bi Poin said with aplomb, very comfortable in his role of witness, quick to ask his interlocutor to clarify or rephrase his questions. More loquacious than his counterparts in the Gendarmerie and the police, a somewhat charismatic speaker, the former CECOS boss gladly dwelt on certain topics, sometimes directing the interrogation himself towards the paths he wanted to take, like this development about the functioning of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS).
“Our operations were very well organized, it was a series of collective actions,” he began to explain. “The chief of staff had put in place a unified command with his officers, and it was felt that no other force could intervene outside this chain. We all had to submit to the demands of the General Staff. Séka was accused of intervening outside this unified command. He was seen on the ground with a group of men fighting the Invisible Commando,” explained the witness.
Séka was then allegedly “vigorously” reprimanded by chief of staff Philippe Mangou.
Guiai Bi Poin then replied about what happened from the time he left the Gendarmerie School to the end of the post-election crisis. “I left on March 31, 2011. Officers were on leave for their safety because we knew that both the school and I were targets. It was bombed, and shells fell in the courtyard of my dwelling.”
Shortly after General Bi Poin left, Séka reportedly took possession of the premises and the few CECOS elements left behind. “And it’s not over, there’s another episode you did not see on your document. Commissioner Robé wanted to regain control of his men. Séka refused, he was threatening and Robé left.”
Guiai Bi Poin went on: “It should be pointed out that it was between April 1 and 10, 2011, a period of generalized crisis. There was no more order in Côte d’Ivoire, the situation was critical, nothing could be done.”
“If I fall, you fall”
The prosecutor then asked General Bi Poin about the relationship between the chief of staff and his superiors, namely the Minister of Defense and the President of the Republic. “Was he accountable to his chiefs?” asked Pack.
“I do not doubt he was in regular contact with them. Madam, the generals are very responsible, and we perfectly knew our missions in times of crisis and war,” the witness responded.
After being leaving the courtroom at the request of the defense teams, who wanted an update on the prosecution’s interrogation method, he continued spontaneously. “While I was out, I was thinking. How unusual is it for a chief of staff to see his commander in times of crisis? I insist that he saw and called him regularly.”
Two questions allowed him to clarify his own relationship with the hierarchy. Asked about Laurent Gbagbo’s statement on August 7, 2010 during the National Holiday, the famous “If I fall, you fall,” he was asked to give an interpretation. “For me, a soldier has a duty of loyalty. It was therefore an invitation to continue to be loyal to authority.”
He went on: “I am a soldier and a soldier does not comment on the decisions of his chiefs.”
“The President never talked about politics with us”
After being interviewed at great length on the content of his many visits at the president’s residence and office, where he was often present with all the generals, Bi Poin recalled three of these encounters and repeated that he did not remember the content of the others. “We visited the presidency quite often. We did it a lot.”
Referring to the curfews between the two rounds of the presidential elections, he said: “The only time I remember talking about the curfew was at the palace.”
The highest spheres of the state were then present: Laurent Gbagbo, Alassane Ouattara, and all their teams “as well as the president of Burkina Faso and his collaborators.”
“We, as soldiers were asked our opinion on the curfew imposed the day before the elections and, especially, on the eve of the second round of the presidential election. We got into a little corner of the office to discuss this, we agreed, and then walked out. All the generals felt that this was a useful measure to appease the situation and that it was good to maintain it.”
The curfew was not to the liking of Ouattara, the witness reported in a rather roundabout way. Despite his insistence, the prosecution was unable to extract from him the date of this meeting. “I cannot remember; it’s been almost eight years now.”
Affirming that CECOS had not been “involved in securing the elections,” Guiai Bi Poin described the electoral climate: “For us, the first round went perfectly well. Then there was some friction but not real deterioration of the security situation.”
The hearing, suspended until Wednesday, concluded with this allegation by the witness: “The President never talked about politics with us.”
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.