|Pre-Trial Chamber I held a confirmation of charges hearing for Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Côte d'Ivoire. Photo: Michael Kooren/Reuters|
Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC held a confirmation of charges hearing from February 19-28 to decide whether the case of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Côte d’Ivoire, should go to trial. Following this hearing, the three-judges panel will determine within 60 days of the final filings whether Gbagbo case to confirm the charges.
Gbagbo, who was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 2000 to 2011, is allegedly responsible as indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in the context of post-electoral violence in the territory of Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011. The charges under examination by the Pre-Trial Chamber include murder; rape and other sexual violence; persecution; and other inhuman acts. Côte d’Ivoire was not a state party to the ICC at the time of the alleged crimes but accepted the jurisdiction of the Court on April 18, 2003 by a declaration made in accordance with the Rome Statute. It ratified the Rome Statute on February 15, 2013 and will become a State Party on May 1, 2013. Following a formal investigation in the Prosecutor’s own initiative, the Court issued a warrant of arrest for Laurent Gbagbo on October 25, 2011. He was transferred to the ICC detention center at The Hague by Ivorian authorities on November 23, 2011. He is the first head of state to face the ICC.
During this public hearing, the Prosecutor and the defense presented their arguments to the three judges of Pre-Trial Chamber I. Victims also had the opportunity to intervene and present their views through their legal representatives.
The defense called for charges to be dropped around three main points. First, it contested the admissibility of the case before the Court pointing out that Côte d’Ivoire has shown its willingness and capacity to investigate and prosecute Gbagbo itself. The defense argued that the principle of complementarity guaranteed by the Rome Statute "is not an option recognized to national courts but rather an obligation." The second part of the defense strategy was to question the quality of the Prosecutor's work. In this regard, they claimed that the investigation was not conducted properly since it only relies on a "construction of events that has been put together by others" - meaning NGOs. It also pointed out that the process of the Prosecutor was objectionable because she referred to actual events but she drew "hazardous interpretations" from them in order to prove a supposed intention of Gbagbo to stay in power. For example, the defense criticized the fact that the Prosecutor interpreted the slogan of Gbago’s election campaign "Gagner ou gagner" ("Win or win") as one element proving its intention to remain in power. The defense argued that it is simply a popular expression even used by the national football team. The defense finally questioned the partiality of the ICC since it is not prosecuting the “Ouattara side” - referring to current President Alassane Outtara - even though it had also been accused of committing serious crimes during the post-electoral violence.
In a brief statement at the end of the confirmation of charges hearing on February 28, Gbagbo defended himself especially concerning his presumed intention to stay in power undemocratically. He declared, “I am here because I respected the constitution.” He claimed that he has been a strong advocate for democracy for a very long time because he believes it is the only way for Africa to build its nations. In his view, democracy helps to overcome tensions between heterogeneous groups and gives each of them a voice. He also explained that he believed his case will not be addressed properly without considering what happened during the elections. He argued that “democracy is not only the vote but who tells the result of the vote." He finally argued that this is the ones who lost the election, Ouattara and his allies, who caused the turmoil.
In response, the prosecution complained about the defense's last-minute application challenging the admissibility of the case, considering it as a delaying tactic. In her opening statement, the Prosecutor declared that her office would demonstrate that Gbagbo "bears the greatest responsibility for some of the worst crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire during the post-election crisis of 2010-2011." She considered that there is evidence that Gbabgo and his inner circle "adopted a policy and common plan" to stay in power by any means including force. According to the prosecution, Gbabgo was not only aware of what was happening but he "was the one calling the shots." This is supported by evidence gathered by the OTP, including Gbagbo's orders to use the army against demonstrators or the appointment of his supporters to key positions in government and in the security services.
The prosecution also emphasized the necessity of bringing justice for the victims of the crimes. The prosecution claims that Gbagbo is responsible for the "killing of at least 166 persons, the rape of at least 34 women and girls, the infliction of serious bodily injury and suffering on at least 94 persons and for committing the crime of persecution against at least 294 victims." Regarding the issue of partiality, the Prosecutor argued that a second warrant of arrest was issued for Simone Gbagbo (the wife of the ex-president) and that the investigations will continue. This means that other warrant arrest could be issued and other persons could be tried.
Views of Victims
Paolina Massidda, the Principal Counsel within the Office of Public Counsel for Victims called for the confirmation of all the charges against Gbagbo. She corroborated the arguments of the prosecution, especially concerning the intention of Gbagbo through "a common plan" to remain in power. She also stated that the alleged crimes presented by the prosecution were widespread and generalized and targeted not only the "rebels" but the civil population, independent of any political stance. Massidda underlined the suffering of the victims. She mentioned the traumatic impact of those crimes on the lives of the victims, the loss of their means to survive, their stigmatization within the Ivorian society and the fact that some of them were still living near the alleged perpetrators of crimes. She concluded that the victims have the right to impartial justice and truth about the events that occurred and reparations through individual and collective processes.
The parties have the opportunity to submit written arguments following the hearing. Judges should make the decision to either send the case to trial by the end of June.