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Africa

Gbagbo pleads not guilty

media Former Cote d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo attends his trial in The Hague on 28 January, 2016 Reuters/ICC via Reuters TV

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo pleaded "not guilty" to four charges of crimes against humanity on Thursday. Gbagbo made the plea as his high-profile trial at the International Criminal Court opened his morning,  five years after devastating post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire.

Gbagbo and his former youth and education minister and leader of the Youth Patriots, a pro-Gbagbo militia group, Charles Blé Goudé, are both being tried for the same crimes that took place in the post-electoral violence in 2010 and early 2011.

The charges were initially  made against Gbagbo, but given that Goudé is also accused of the same crimes as his ‘mentor’, it was decided that the two men should be tried together.

They are both charged on four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, inhumane acts and persecution.

The crimes date back to presidential elections in early November 2010 that went to a second round. Based on results declared by the electoral commission and confirmed by the United Nations, Alassane Ouattara won.

However, supporters of Gbagbo and his party, the FPI, claimed the results were fraudulent.

 On the back of that, the Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo the winner having claimed 51.45% of votes. It also invalidated  the results that had already been verified by the UN and the electoral commission.

The decision divided the country. By  18 December, 2010, Gbagbo had kicked the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire out of the country along with French forces that had been there since 2004.

The regional bloc - Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - threatened to bring down Gbagbo if he did not agree to step down and hand over the presidency to Ouattara.

These are the four main events that the prosecution at the ICC is basing its case on:

  • violence that broke out during pro-Ouattara protests near the station of RTI (Radio Television Ivorien) between the 16 and 19 December 2010.
  • the women’s pro-Ouattara protest in Abobo on 3 March 2011.
  • the bombing of a market in Abobo on 17 March 2011; and an attack in Yopougon around the 12 April 2011.
  • Violence committed by supporters of both parties led to the death of some 3000 people during this period, with over 150 women being raped.

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, and her team have spent the past four years combing all evidence to show Gbagbo planned and gave the green light to those in his inner circle who carried out much of the violence during those events.

She says they have 138 witnesses, as well as 5,300 elements of proof along with 522 hours of recording to present.

The defense team will have to prove that Gbagbo had no prior knowledge of the planning of, and carrying out of atrocities committed by his inner circle.

It is also likely try to poke holes in the legitimacy of trying a former head of state at the ICC on euroepean soil.

The trial of former Ivorian president is the first time ever a head of state has been tried at the Hague.

It will be a major test for the international court to prove that it is, in fact, a legitimate and just system that is concerned only with delivering justice and not settling political scores.

At the same time, many have accused the ICC of only holding Gbagbo responsible for the deadly violence.

During a press conference held on the eve of today’s opening trial, Bensouda stated "my Office will leave no stone unturned as we seek to ensure justice and accountability on both sides".

Due to budget and resource constraints, her office has only been able to focus on Gbagbo, but she has confirmed in previous interviews that her office will also be investigating crimes committed by pro-Ouattara supporters.

 
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