Appearing since March 8 at the International Criminal Court in the case of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, Edouard Kassaraté continued his testimony on Tuesday. The prosecution finished their interrogation and the defense took over.
The hearing closed on Monday in a very tense atmosphere with prosecution questions related to the signature of a document by the witness. Virulently questioning Edouard Kassaraté, prosecution lawyer Eric MacDonald was called to order by Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser. As tension increased in the courtroom, the Presiding Judge cut short the hearing that was coming to an end.
“Let’s hope the climate is more peaceful today,” he said at the opening of the hearing this morning. This was the case, with cordial exchanges between the witness and the defense.
“The gendarmes bought their own gasoline”
Emmanuel Altit, senior lawyer for Laurent Gbagbo, opened his cross-examination by taking stock of the resources allocated to the Ivorian Gendarmerie. Until now, General Kassaraté had described a poorly endowed service. This was confirmed. Making calculations under the witness’s check, Altit undertook to establish the actual number of people in service each day out of the 17,000 men assigned to the Gendarmerie. There were reportedly 10,000 gendarmes for 10 to 15 million people in territories still controlled by the state during the crisis. In Abidjan, there were daily 600 gendarmes per 2 million inhabitants. “A very low ratio in both cases,” the witness said.
As for equipment, the situation of the Gendarmerie was not better: “The vehicles were not all in working order, it was called the cemetery of vehicles, everything was broken all the time.”
It was the same thing for fuel, which was rare. “There was never enough fuel. The gendarmes bought their gasoline or motorcycles themselves to do their duty,” explained General Kassaraté.
Regarding weapons, it seems that this was not the panacea either in a state then under embargo. “We had two or three pistols per brigade of 20 to 50 people. The squadrons had kalaches but not enough.”
The situation was no better regarding communications. The brigade leaders on the territory were obliged, because of lack of radio, “to entrust messages to drivers to transmit them to Abidjan.”
A witness who has worked with all the Presidents of Côte d’Ivoire
The former commander of the gendarmerie then revealed that a French listening service was installed “within the President’s Residence. I arrived at the residence in 2000, and I think this service had already been around for a long time. I have no proof, but I am sure they were listening to our communications,” he said.
“Did this service remain in place during the Presidency of Laurent Gbagbo?” asked Altit.
“Yes,” replied Kassaraté.
“Was it part of the French secret service?”
“I am not sure.”
“Were you also listened to by the rebel forces?”
Kassaraté, who joined the Gendarmerie in 1977, confirmed to the defense that he had worked with the five presidents who succeeded one another in Côte d’Ivoire. At this moment, when his “brilliant” career was mentioned, he was concerned about the reception of his remarks by “our local Ivorian press, which often makes derogatory comments.”
He was then asked by Judge Tarfusser: “Are you afraid of the witness?”
“No,” he replied.
“You are not here for the media, and you are not speaking for the outside world but for this court,” said the judge.
As had been done with the Director-General of the Ivorian Police, Altit examined the ethnic origins of the Gendarmerie Commanders, including the witness, who recalled that he belonged to the Krou ethnic group, southeast of the country. The observation was the same as with the police.
“Is it fair to say that the Gendarmerie was composed of men of all ethnic and denominational origins?”
“Yes, because the officers and the non-commissioned officers enter the gendarmerie through competition,” recalled Kassaraté, noting that his ethnicity had not been relevant in his various appointments.
Frequent exchanges between official and rebel military forces
While the prosecution extensively studied the governmental military apparatus during their interrogation, the defense explored the military structures of the rebellion. “Until the Marcoussis agreements [in 2003], we did not know the face of the rebellion. Afterwards, it was known that it was led by Guillaume Soro and Colonel Bakayoko. There was no longer any talk of rebellion but Force Nouvelles (FN),” the witness told Altit. Kassaraté knew certain rebel area chiefs, including Wattao, Loss, Bakayoko, and Cherif Ousmane, many of whom, according to him, later integrated Ouattara’s army.
Responding to questions from the defense, Kassaraté explained that there were frequent discussions between the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) and the Armed Forces of the New Forces (FAFN), in the presence of UNOCI (United Nations Operations in Côte d’Ivoire) and the French forces. Rebels originally came from “Burkina Faso with high chances of having Burkinabe, and possibly Nigerians and Malians in their ranks.”
“Were mercenaries recruited before the elections?” asked Altit.
“No,” replied the witness.
“Were you aware of crimes committed by rebels or elements of the RHDP between 28 November and 15 December 2010?”
“No, I did not know about it.”
The Invisible Commando, led by Ibrahim Coulibaly a.k.a. IB, who was killed on April 27, 2011 during clashes with the FRCI (Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire), was repeatedly mentioned.
“When the Invisible Commando seized Abidjan, they were able to fire on everything that was moving, even on the Gendarmerie camp. They were very mobile. It looked like an urban guerrilla. They succeeded in destroying tanks in Abobo,” the witness said, admitting that he himself was a target.
In addition to the killings in the Anouka Akouté and PK18 districts of Abidjan “which caused many deaths and injuries,” there was also talk of an attack on the RTI antenna at Abobo station. “They shot down one of the two gendarmes, who was guarding the antenna, the other was able to flee.”
“No contact with France during the crisis”
Edouard Kassaraté, like Brédou M’Bia before him, was questioned about the possible presence of rebel weapons caches. Despite the presentation of documents relating to the Gendarmerie, recounting two seizures belonging to a “real arsenal of war,” the witness repeated: “I do not remember at all.”
The lawyer also focused on the situation at the Golf Hotel, Alassane Ouattara’s headquarters during the crisis. Kassaraté reported the presence of FAFN, ONUCI, and French soldiers, with “all kinds of weapons, automatic guns, handguns, and rockets.”
Responding to questions about attacks on FDS positions by the French army, he referred to the death of “a 7-year-old girl by a rocket launched on the Agban camp, which went through the roof of a gendarme’s house” and recounted “daily aerial surveys by helicopters probably belonging to ONUCI and France,” all this “in March when a Security Council resolution had ordered the destruction of Laurent Gbagbo’s heavy weapons”.
“Did RHDP [Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace] or French forces representatives try to influence your subordinates or yourself during the crisis?” asked Altit.
“Nobody told me about that. As for me, I had no contact with France during the crisis,” said the former high-ranking officer.
While the defense questioned the witness about Gbagbo’s last days in power and about the defection of some of his generals who had “invited the army to lay down their arms,” this new day of testimony ended in closed session at the request of Altit. Kassaraté, consulted on the subject, had nevertheless declared “it would be better to do it in public.”
The hearing was then adjourned until Thursday, with the witness’s counsel being unable to attend the court tomorrow.
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.