Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbabgo at his confirmation of charges hearing at the ICC in February 2013 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

Gbagbo and ICC fairness on trial?

27 January 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) prepares to try its first former head of state when Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo goes on trial in The Hague Thursday many question if the ICC is balanced in trying only the leadership of one side in the post-electoral violence.

 In a press conference Wednesday, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stressed that her office's investigations in Ivory Coast continue.
“My office will leave no stone unturned as we seek to ensure justice and accountability on all sides,” she said. 
Following the 2010 presidential elections Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara, leading to a five-month civil war that left over 3,000 dead and over 150 women raped. Following his arrest by Ouattara's forces Gbagbo was handed over to the ICC immediately prompting accusations of victors justice [IJT-156]. The prosecution has always said it would investigate both sides and Bensouda on Thursday said she had “intensified investigations into the pro-Ouattara camp”.
“I believe we will have results soon,” she told Ivorian journalists who asked why the probe into the current president's forces was taking so long.

Gbagbo faces four counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and other sexual violence, inhumane acts and persecution that stemmed from the violence following the 2010 presidential elections. On trial with Gbagbo is his former Youth minister Charles Blé Goudé who faces the same accusations mostly related to four dramatic events in the main city Abidjan: a march on the public television headquarters, a women's demonstration, a mortar shelling in a popular area (Abobo) and serious violations committed in another area (Yopougon).
While Ivory Coast has since said it would not turn anyone else over to the ICC, the authorities have been cooperating in the Gbagbo/Blé Goudé trial which means that part of the evidence the prosecution will rely on will come from the current government and Gbagbo's former rival. 
Bensouda was quick to say all the evidence coming from “the big enemy” was put under “strict scrutiny” to see if it would hold up in court and that the prosecution intends to go forward “in all fairness (and) impartiality”.

'Victims draw hope from the start of the trial'

Organisations representing the victims of post-electoral violence in domestic procedures in Ivory Coast stress that despite the perceived one-sidedness of the Gbagbo trial in The Hague, they hoped the international trial would spur on local legal proceedings against perpetrators on all sides. 
“I hope this case will give an impulse to the national (legal) process to move forward,” Fanta Doumbia of an Ivorian women's rights NGO told IJT. She especially hoped the ICC's focus on the sexual violence and rape would help women in Ivory Coast “break their silence”.
Diouma, whose organisation represents 43 victims of sexual violence in domestic proceedings linked to the post-electoral clashes told IJT the start of the trial is a relief for victims: “It shows them they haven't been forgotten.”
The defence team for Gbagbo said the former president has been “awaiting his trial confidently” and wants “the whole truth to come out”. According to his lawyer Emmanuel Altit,  Gbagbo hopes the case will allow “the people of Ivory Coast to take ownership of their history and be reconciled”.
Altit who has already tried to get his client declared unfit for trial on health grounds (IJT-180) would not say if the former president would address the court at the opening of the case.