By Maxence Peniguet
It was D-Day today for Ivory Coast and the International Criminal Court (ICC). After over four years of (very) long preliminaries, former president Laurent Gbagbo and his minister Charles Blé Goudé are finally facing the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on trial. They are accused of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2010/2011 post-electoral crisis.
The two Ivoirians were not alone. Hundreds of supporters came to The Hague to cheer for Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé. An hour before the trial, they were already singing “Free Gbagbo, free Gbagbo!” in front of the brand new ICC headquarters. They carried flags of African countries and beyond to show that different people from different countries supported their compatriots.
A different kind of supporter was also present today: NGO representatives fighting against impunity. They want to ask ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the same question as the pro-Gbagbo crowd: “What are you waiting for in prosecuting l’autre camp [the other side]?” In other words, they want to know when the prosecutor will look into the atrocities committed by the forces loyal to Ouattara, the current Ivorian president.
–>Related Article: Why the OTP took time to open Côte d’Ivoire II
This is a criminal trial, not a demonstration
Before declaring that the “trial is now open”, Judge Cuno Tarfusser – who is presiding over Trial Chamber 1 – made a statement undoubtedly addressed to Gbagbo/Blé Goudé supporters. He said that this is a criminal trial not a demonstration, and that the Court was not putting Ivory Coast as a country on trial.
Fatou Bensouda was happy to re-emphasise Tarfusser’s point during her own opening statement, which did not please everyone in the public gallery. Supporters of the accused protested as she asked the Ivorian people to ‘”be patient” regarding the investigations against pro-Ouattara forces. Later, the crowd tut-tutted her when she called Charles Blé Goudé the “spin doctor” of Laurent Gbagbo.
Her opening also highlighted what is currently high on her agenda: sexual violence and gender-based crimes. She described how witness P-0350 was arrested by the gendarmerie and detained for three days during which she was raped and gang raped by gendarmes.
This is what happens with new things such as the new ICC building: they work well or… they don’t work at all. While the pro-Gbagbo supporters were watching the live stream in the cold outside of the ICC, Eric MacDonald, senior prosecutor, failed to broadcast the first video of the day.
When the OTP finally managed to play their video showing Gbagbo giving a speech, more protests followed from the public gallery. Further explanations of the prosecutor’s case were also received with derision from the public.
V for victory
The negative remarks from the public gallery turned to loud support for the accused once the session ended. The curtains remained open for a while, giving the people in the gallery the chance to call for the liberation of their “president” and to direct their V-for-victory signs towards Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.
Interested in the rest of the trial? Our sister site Ivoire Justice extensively covers the Ivorian cases at the ICC (French only).
Image: Clara Sanchiz (Ivoire Justice/RNW Media)