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

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Summary and link to PDF of IJT 146.