Since Monday, Georges Guiai Bi Poin has been testifying in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial, the former Ivorian president and his minister accused of crimes against humanity. The prosecution’s examination closed this morning, and the defense took over.
“Did Laurent Gbagbo give orders for investigations into civilian casualties during the crisis?” This was the last question from prosecution lawyer Melissa Pack Thursday morning addressed to the former Security Operations Command Center (CECOS) head, Georges Guiai Bi Poin.
“No,” he replied. After a little over three days of hearing, the prosecution finished the questions it wanted to ask its witness.
It was then the turn of the defense to intervene. There was a silence, before defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit took the floor: “Good morning, Mr. Witness, I am the lead counsel for Laurent Gbagbo.”
His questions focused on the Invisible Commando and on the “FAFN ex-rebels,” whose headquarters was located “in Bouaké.” Asked to clarify whether incidents had occurred in the country during the second round of elections in 2010, the witness said that “violence was committed in Korhogo on representatives of the candidate Laurent Gbagbo who were sometimes prevented from voting.” He added: “Outside of Korhogo, which was an emblematic case, there were other scuffles where pro-Gbagbo prevented pro-Ouattara from voting.”
“I never went to the Golf Hotel”
Georges Guiai Bi Poin felt that the tensions and attacks against the police began “as early as the first election results. Then there was no respite.” He located these tensions “both in the presidency, and in the Golf.” Referring to the deaths of three police officers who were burned alive in a building at PK18, he said: “Clashes also caused the deaths of civilians.” Such attacks were blamed on “the Invisible Commando who claimed IB as its leader.”
The “IB” the witness referred to was Ibrahim Coulibaly, who was killed on April 27, 2011 in clashes with the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI).
“Did the Invisible Commando have heavy weapons?” asked Altit.
“Yes, guns and mortars were spotted circulating in the city. It was not to equip the armed forces but the rebellion or the Invisible Commando,” the witness responded.
“You say that you saw with your own eyes columns of ex-rebels who later became FAFN then FRCI in Abidjan, equipped with heavy weapons?” Laurent Gbagbo’s lawyer rephrased and highlighted.
“Yes,” said Guiai Bi Poin.
“Was this material new?”
“I cannot affirm it.”
“You said that government forces were under embargo, so how could these rebel forces get that equipment?”
“Maybe it had been acquired before the embargo, I do not know. In any case, they were not short of ammunition while we, the official Army, were simply destitute.”
Questioned like his police and gendarmerie counterparts on the forces at the Golf Hotel, the Major-General showed he had little information on the subject and murmured in passing: “I have never been there.”
“Was there a Gendarmerie observation post near the Golf Hotel?” inquired Mr. Altit.
“Yes, and the Police Director told us that he was attacked by soldiers from the Golf who snatched their weapons and took one or two gendarmes as hostages.”
“We’re not going to continually rewrite history”
Returning to the December 16, 2010 march, Altit asked for confirmation: “You said that the Police Director was in charge of policing operations. Was this customary in such cases?”
“Yes, that was the absolute rule,” responded Guiai Bi Poin.
“You also said that the CECOS units were then placed under the direct authority of high-ranking police officers?”
“Yes, and you do not have any operational instructions to give them, you do not even know where they are deployed.”
Returning at the end of the day to the creation of CECOS in 2005, the witness indicated that he himself designed the “structure project” of this command center and selected the men. CECOS’s priority was “burglary and car theft as well as hold-ups.” The structure was allegedly set up in response to a shortage: “There was no unit to alert us in real time on the attacks which were an obsession for the chief of staff and the FDS.”
The fact that Altit, as part of his interrogation, once again returned to the 2000s and the beginning of the rebellion in Côte d’Ivoire was debated in the courtroom. If the prosecution considers that it is not necessary to dwell on the events preceding the time interval corresponding to the prosecutor’s charges (2010-2011), the defense considers on the contrary that it is in these years that lay the fundamentals of the post-election crisis.
“These are the same protagonists, the same causes, the same effects” argued Altit.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser ruled: “Yes, there is some logic in doing that, but we are not going to continually rewrite history. You had some leeway, and you have exhausted it. We must return to the heart of the trial.”
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.