Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
His co-accused Charles Ble Goude also pleaded not guilty to the charges, which relate to the country’s civil conflict that erupted after he lost elections in 2010. He said, “I don’t recognize charges, therefore I plead not guilty.” While the charges were being read for him, he was seen taking notes and on the other hand, Gbagbo would be seen shaking his head, removing and replacing his spectacles and holding his head high.
Their trial begun on Thursday at the International Criminal Court before Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court composed of presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser, Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia and Judge Geoffrey Henderson.
Judge Cuno warned the participants that proceedings before the chamber were criminal.
“This is a criminal trial. This is not a game. Ivory Coast is not on trial. Those on trial are two individuals.”
Earlier in the day, Gbagbo supporters gathered outside the court room, demanding the release the ex-president.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser insisted the court would not be used for political grandstanding during the trial, which will also weigh charges against former youth leader Charles Ble Goude.
“This is not a game,” Tarfusser said. “The chamber will not allow this trial to be used as a political instrument in any way whatsoever.”
100’s of people protest #Gbagbo‘s innocence outside the #ICC @IntlCrimCourt as his trial begins. #sabcnews #twitter — Jack Parrock (@jackeparrock) January 28, 2016
Presiding Judge assured both parties that the trial will be conducted fairly and expeditiously.
In her opening statements, the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the two accused must be held into account for the alleged crimes committed in Abidjan.
“Let me be clear from the outset: this trial is not about who won the 2010 elections. Nor is it about who should have won those elections. It is about the individual criminal responsibility of the two accused for crimes committed in the 2010 post-election violence which fall under the jurisdiction of this Court.
It is about their responsibility for crimes committed by the armed forces of Côte d’Ivoire, and by youth groups, militia and mercenaries – in furtherance of a plan to keep Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means.”
“This trial is about ensuring “no impunity for those who committed crimes in Ivory Coast, regardless of their position,” she added.
The Court’s chief prosecutor also vowed to leave no stone unturned in investigating alleged crimes by all sides in Ivory Coast’s brief 2010 civil war, including by supporters of the current president, Alassane Ouattara.
“Our investigations in the country are ongoing. But they do take time. I encourage the people of Côte d’Ivoire to be patient, and I urge the national authorities to continue to cooperate with my Office in its activities.
My Office will seek to ensure justice and accountability on all sides. This should be clear; my Office is investigating both sides of the conflict. That is what the Office’s legal mandate requires, that is what the victims deserve, and that is what the Prosecution is most committed to and is working to achieve.”
Both Accused are jointly charged with crimes committed during four incidents which led to the killing of at least 142 persons, the rapes of at least 24 women and girls, the infliction of serious bodily injury and suffering to at least 119 persons. They are also charged with the crime of persecution.