The second day of testimony by the former Head of the Ivorian Gendarmerie, Edouard Kassaraté, revealed nothing about the role of Laurent Gbagbo and his Youth Minister. Faced with the prosecution witness’s evasion and voluntary amnesia, Judge Cuno Tarfusser tried to remind him of his duty to tell the truth.
On the morning of Friday, March 10, in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial, the prosecution resumed its interrogation. Prosecution lawyer Alexis Demirdjian came to the heart of the matter, focusing on the situation between the two rounds of the presidential election (October 31 and November 28, 2010) and asking direct questions about concrete facts. However, General Kassaraté was uncooperative, excelling in dodging and evasive responses, making the task of the prosecutor arduous.
At first very calm at the beginning of the session, Presiding Judge Tarfusser once again reminded Witness P-11: “We need the truth to be able to make decisions.” However, like other prosecution witnesses before him, Kassaraté walled up behind his lapses of memory, always repeating “I do not remember,” and showed an obvious aversion for dates.
Tarfusser repeatedly lent a hand to the prosecutor during this day of testimony. “I insist, please call upon your memory Mr. Witness, and tell us what you know.” Exhausted after a dozen requests of the same nature, he ordered: “I urge you to tell the truth, it is your duty, and I remind you that you have taken the oath. I have never repeated this request so much to a witness.”
A gendarmerie described as indigent
Asked about a November 14, 2010 decree mentioning the requisitioning of the national armed forces deployed on the territory, Kassaraté said he did not remember. “I have never experienced a situation of requisition in Cote d’Ivoire,” he said.
When the prosecutor showed him that the information has been relayed in the Official Gazette, he explained: “I was not a recipient of the Official Gazette, I never was.”
Irritated by these repeated denials, Judge Tarfusser again intervened: “If you are not a recipient of the Official Gazette, then you do not know the law, and that, for a Head of the Gendarmerie, it is not a good thing.”
Kassaraté also refrained from answering questions related to his men when they were made available to other FDS (Defense and Security Forces) services and thus placed under the authority of other generals, such as the Chief of Staff of the Head of State or General Guiai Bi Poin, head of CECOS (Security Operations Command Center). He also often entrenched himself behind the orders of Philippe Mangou: “The Gendarmerie, the Army, and the Police always worked according to orders issued by the Chief of Staff.”
Faced with questions about the equipment of the police forces, he repeatedly referred to an almost indigent structure. Referring to the armament in November 2010: “We were under-equipped and understaffed. Our barracks were attacked in 2002 by the rebellion, our weapons and our vehicles seized. It was difficult to carry out our missions.”
He admitted he made requests to the Minister of Defense and received “shields and sticks to maintain order” as well as “sheeted vehicles for squadrons and brigades.”
Nothing leaked out about state-level meetings
The Head of the National Gendarmerie, who lived in Abgan camp and drove to work each day under escort, was questioned on his presence at the president’s residence before and during the elections. However, nothing leaked out about the object and content of his numerous passages on the spot with General Mangou, attested by “a golden book” listing the entries and exits of each visitor.
“Between November and April, how many times did you go to the residence to meet the Head of State?” asked the representative of the Prosecutor. “As many times as I had reason to go there” sharply replied Kassaraté. At each meeting with Laurent Gbagbo mentioned by the Prosecution, whether in the presence of Guillaume Soro, Charles Blé Goudé or the whole panoply of great generals, the same answer. “I do not remember going there” or “I was not there.”
“On November 19, 2010, you said that you talked about the security program with the President of the Republic. What did you discuss?” asked Demirdjian again.
“The Chief of Staff reported on our behalf on the security situation in the country…The President as the supreme commander of the armed forces ordered us to continue securing the population and their property,” responded the witness.
General Kassaraté’s most spontaneous response followed a question on the consequences for the gendarmerie of Gbagbo’s and Alassane Ouattara’s respective claims for the presidency of the country. “This created a lot of uncertainty for us to see that the candidates had not agreed on the results.”
Demirdjian then asked, “As Head of the Gendarmerie, did you then issue instructions?”
“No, we were just observing, there was still peace,” Kassaraté said.
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.