Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbabgo at his confirmation of charges hearing at the ICC in February 2013 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

Gbagbo and ICC fairness on trial?

27 January 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) prepares to try its first former head of state when Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo goes on trial in The Hague Thursday many question if the ICC is balanced in trying only the leadership of one side in the post-electoral violence.

 In a press conference Wednesday, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stressed that her office's investigations in Ivory Coast continue.
“My office will leave no stone unturned as we seek to ensure justice and accountability on all sides,” she said. 
Following the 2010 presidential elections Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara, leading to a five-month civil war that left over 3,000 dead and over 150 women raped. Following his arrest by Ouattara's forces Gbagbo was handed over to the ICC immediately prompting accusations of victors justice [IJT-156]. The prosecution has always said it would investigate both sides and Bensouda on Thursday said she had “intensified investigations into the pro-Ouattara camp”.
“I believe we will have results soon,” she told Ivorian journalists who asked why the probe into the current president's forces was taking so long.

Gbagbo faces four counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and other sexual violence, inhumane acts and persecution that stemmed from the violence following the 2010 presidential elections. On trial with Gbagbo is his former Youth minister Charles Blé Goudé who faces the same accusations mostly related to four dramatic events in the main city Abidjan: a march on the public television headquarters, a women's demonstration, a mortar shelling in a popular area (Abobo) and serious violations committed in another area (Yopougon).
While Ivory Coast has since said it would not turn anyone else over to the ICC, the authorities have been cooperating in the Gbagbo/Blé Goudé trial which means that part of the evidence the prosecution will rely on will come from the current government and Gbagbo's former rival. 
Bensouda was quick to say all the evidence coming from “the big enemy” was put under “strict scrutiny” to see if it would hold up in court and that the prosecution intends to go forward “in all fairness (and) impartiality”.

'Victims draw hope from the start of the trial'

Organisations representing the victims of post-electoral violence in domestic procedures in Ivory Coast stress that despite the perceived one-sidedness of the Gbagbo trial in The Hague, they hoped the international trial would spur on local legal proceedings against perpetrators on all sides. 
“I hope this case will give an impulse to the national (legal) process to move forward,” Fanta Doumbia of an Ivorian women's rights NGO told IJT. She especially hoped the ICC's focus on the sexual violence and rape would help women in Ivory Coast “break their silence”.
Diouma, whose organisation represents 43 victims of sexual violence in domestic proceedings linked to the post-electoral clashes told IJT the start of the trial is a relief for victims: “It shows them they haven't been forgotten.”
The defence team for Gbagbo said the former president has been “awaiting his trial confidently” and wants “the whole truth to come out”. According to his lawyer Emmanuel Altit,  Gbagbo hopes the case will allow “the people of Ivory Coast to take ownership of their history and be reconciled”.
Altit who has already tried to get his client declared unfit for trial on health grounds (IJT-180) would not say if the former president would address the court at the opening of the case.

Related articles

25 June 2014 by IJT

Three years after his arrest in Abidjan, the former president of Ivory Coast received confirmation, on 12 June, that he will be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. 

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo at the opening of his ICC trial in January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
05 July 2016 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Twelve witnesses over the past five months: the ICC’s case against former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his supporter Charles Blé Goudé is not getting up to speed. Already, it is lost in discussions on history, suffers from a lack of evidence tying him directly to the crimes and has slowly moved into closed-door hearings.

When the International Criminal Court’s new building [IJT-189] was officially inaugurated by the Dutch King last April, the celebratory ceremony ended with a performance of children singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”. Three months earlier, there was a totally different atmosphere. On 28 January 2016, you could hear the swelling hymns of the crowd: “Libérez Gbagbo! Libérez Gbagbo! Libérez Gbagbo! (Free Gbagbo)” they chanted. Outside the guarded entrance, armed with megaphones, drums and banners, Ivoirians from the diaspora community in Europe had assembled to demand the release of the man they still consider to be their President: Laurent Gbagbo. Inside, while the court clerk read out the charges, some of the spectators sizzled, others burst out in sardonic laughter. They rejoiced in faith and uttered praises when Gbagbo and his companion in the dock, alleged mouthpiece, spin-doctor and ‘street general,’ Charles Blé Goudé, plead not guilty.

Following Ivory Coast's post-election violence, Cristelle Semao Gueh and family at a camp in Duekoue (Caroline Gluck/Oxfam)
27 January 2015 by Christin Roby, Abidjan (Ivory Coast)

The trial of Ivorian former first lady Simone Gbagbo and 82 co-defendants entered its fourth week of testimony in Abidjan on Monday. Gbagbo, along with former prime minister Aké N'Gbo and former president of the Ivorian Popular Front Affi N'Guessan, face charges of undermining state security through alleged involvement in atrocities that killed an estimated 3,000 after the November 2010 election.

Urban life in Ivory Coast (Photo: Flickr/Guillaume Mignot)
23 March 2015 by Christin Roby, Abidjan (Ivory Coast)

The 20-year prison sentence handed to former Ivorian first lady Simone Gbagbo in Abidjan’s case against her and 82 others for undermining state security is being met with intense scrutiny. Though a victory to some, many Ivorians are unsatisfied.

04 April 2014 by IJT
Charles Blé Goudé, the 42 year old former charismatic head of the Youth Patriots, a pro-Gbagbo movement, introduced himself as a 'consultant in political communication' during his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC), on 27 March. Transferred from Ivory Coast five days before, he has joined in The Netherlands the ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, who has been held for two years.