Ivory Coast's ex first lady on trial for poll bloodbath | Inquirer News

Ivory Coast’s ex first lady on trial for poll bloodbath

/ 07:26 AM June 01, 2016

Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Ivory Coast’s feisty former first lady Simone Gbagbo went on trial Tuesday for crimes against humanity in what many see as a litmus case for justice in the west African country.

The hearings into the 66-year-old’s role in post-election carnage in 2010 is expected to last a month with at least 25 witnesses testifying.


Security was tight as a smiling Gbagbo, in an elegant red and white floral dress and sporting her trademark braids, was led in and seated in a red chair opposite the bench.


Nicknamed the “Iron Lady”, she is accused of planning and directing rights abuses against supporters of her husband’s presidential rival to try to maintain Laurent Gbagbo in power at all costs.

He was finally defeated at the polls however and is currently also facing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

More than 3,000 people died in the bloody post-poll violence which petered out only after the arrest of the Gbagbo couple in 2011, when troops stormed the bunker where they had taken refuge in the nation’s main city, Abidjan.

Simone Gbagbo faces allegations of crimes against prisoners of war, crimes against the civilian population and crimes against humanity.

For several hours her lawyers contested the court’s competence, arguing that since war crimes and crimes against humanity had only been added to the Ivorian penal code in March last year, she could not be tried for incidents that went back to 2011.

After a recess the accusations were read out in court.


“I do not recognize these events,” Gbagbo declared.

Outside the court house 30 people proclaimed their support for Gbagbo.

‘Pivotal moment for justice ‘

This is her second trial in Ivory Coast where she is being held behind bars in Abidjan after a 20-year conviction for “attacking state security”.

Witnesses have accused her of personally distributing arms to death squads that operated in Abidjan during the five-month conflict but she has repeatedly denied this.

Human Rights Watch said the trial “could be a pivotal moment for justice” in the world’s top cocoa producer, a beacon of stability in restive west Africa until a 1999 coup that was followed shortly after by years of low-level civil war.

The decade of strife and last wrenching months of violence between pro- and anti-Gbagbo supporters have left deep divisions in a nation still seeking reconciliation.

The trial opened just five days after the Supreme Court rejected the former first lady’s final appeal against the 20-year sentence she was handed last year.

“Simone Gbagbo’s trial – the first in Ivory Coast for crimes against humanity – should be an opportunity for victims of pro-Gbagbo forces to learn the truth about her alleged role in abuses,” Jim Wormington, west Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said.

One of her lawyers, Mathurin Dirabou, has described the charges against her as “fanciful”.

“These accusations have been created to please certain parts of the international community. It’s a pity. Enough is enough,” he added.

– ‘Operational justice system’ -The ICC in The Hague had issued a warrant for Simone Gbagbo’s arrest, but Ivorian authorities refused to hand her over, saying she would face a fair trial at home.

The decision was seen as a snub to the ICC, with President Alassane Ouattara saying he would “not send any more Ivorians” to The Hague as his country has an “operational justice system”.

Ouattara has faced accusations of selective justice, with critics saying he is bent only on prosecuting crimes by pro-Gbagbo forces in 2010-2011 and is ignoring those committed by his own camp. He rejects the allegations.

On Monday, three rights groups pulled out of Simone Gbagbo’s trial because of doubts over its “credibility”.

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“Our lawyers have not had access to all stages of the procedures — how can they defend their case?” the head of one of the groups, the Ivorian League of Human Rights, told AFP.

The trial resumes Wednesday.

TAGS: Abdijan, Ivory Coast, News, The Hague

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