LONG READ - Gbagbo: Lost in history

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.

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo at the opening of his ICC trial in January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo at the opening of his ICC trial in January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

Conscious of the highly politicized public discourse, controversies and conspiracy theories concerning the trial he is presiding over, the Italian Judge, Cuno Tarfusser, used the momentum of this important first trial day to explain what he and his two colleagues are about: “This is a criminal trial…this is not a game in which one side wants to win and the other side shall be defeated. Ivory Coast is not on trial either here. The people of Ivory Coast are not on trial.” Instead, “The task of this bench is to determine on the basis of the evidence adduced by the parties and participants for our assessment whether the charges are, indeed, well-established or not.” It seems a simple task, but nothing is easy. Prosecuting (former) Presidents is delicate, tricky. It is a slippery slope.

Gbagbo's many faces

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
21 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Being the ICC's Chief Prosecutor is a delicate and politically sensitivejob.ForLuisMorenoOcampo it has been "the best job in the world." Fatou Bensouda will be taking over his office in June. She inhe

article
07 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

December 7, 2011 Ivory Coast is the latest playgroundoftheInternationalCriminal Court. This week the courtroom in The Hague became its theatre of justice. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo proudly p

article
07 December 2011 by Richard Walker

Four Congolese witnesses testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, find themselves caught in a legal wrangle, which could at once set a legal precedent and make them the last

article
07 December 2011 by Lindy Janssen

Brazil is booming. The economy is expanding and the country is getting ready to host the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. But the Latin American giant has not even begun dealing wi

article
07 December 2011 by Radosa Milutinovic

The primary purpose of the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj, as proclaimed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its appeal judgement in July, should have been to hear testimonies of two "key" witnesses who proved unwilling to testify in the original trial in 2007. Almost four months into the retrial which started in mid-August, its stated aim has not yet been achieved.