Q&A on the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé at the ICC

SIA KAMBOU / AFP

1. Who are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé and what are they accused of?

2. Why are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé facing trial together?

3. Is it the first time that a former Head of State is facing trial at the ICC?

4. How can the ICC have jurisdiction if Côte d’Ivoire was not a State Party to the ICC Statute at the time of the crimes?

5. Are victims participating in this trial?

6. Are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé the only persons prosecuted at the ICC relating to the crimes committed during the post-election crisis?

7. At what stage are the proceedings against Simone Gbagbo?

8. Are there domestic criminal proceedings in Côte d’Ivoire relating to the post- election crisis? If so, at what stage are they?

1. Who are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé and what are they accused of?

Born in 1945 in Mama, Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo was President of Côte d’Ivoire from 2000 to 2010. In 2010, Gbagbo ran again for Presidency. Following the second round of the presidential elections of 28 November 2010, the Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission announced on 2 December 2010 the provisional results, recognised by the international community, declaring Alassane Ouattara President. The next day, the President of the Constitutional Council overturned that decision and declared Laurent Gbagbo the winner. This resulted in a post-electoral crisis which lead, in addition to Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to recognise the results, to five-month-long tensions, where civilians became victims of mass violence.

Born in 1972 in Niagbrahio, Côte d’Ivoire, Charles Blé Goudé created and chaired the Panafrican Congress of the Young Patriots (COJEP), after years as a student union leader. During the post-electoral crisis, Blé Goudé was named Minister for Youth, Professional Training and Employment in the government formed by Laurent Gbagbo, despite the elections’ results. He allegedly played a key role in Gbagbo’s “inner circle” and allegedly served as an intermediary between him and youth movements loyal to Gbagbo, turning COJEP into a militia group.

Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are accused of being responsible for crimes committed in the context of the post-election violence, where at least 3,000 people were killed and more than 150 women raped, often in targeted acts by armed forces on both sides. [1]
They are accused of four counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape, other inhumane acts or - in the alternative – attempted murder, and persecution).
The crimes for which Laurent Gbagbo is accused of were allegedly perpetrated:
- between 16 and 19 December 2010 during and after a pro-Ouattara march on the RTI (Radiotélévision ivoirienne) headquarters;
- on 3 March 2011 at a Alassane Ouattara supporters women’s demonstration in Abobo, an area of Abidjan;
- on 17 March 2011 by shelling a densely populated area in Abobo;
- and on or around 12 April 2011 in Yopougon.
Charles Blé Goudé is accused of crimes committed between the 16th of December 2010 and on or around the 12th of April 2011 in Abidjan.

Following the arrest warrant issued on 23 November 2011, Mr Gbagbo was transferred to the ICC detention centre in The Hague on 30 November 2011. Charles Blé Goudé was transferred to the ICC on 22 March 2014 following a warrant of arrest issued by the ICC on 21 December 2011.

Charges were confirmed against them on 12 June 2014 and 11 December 2014 respectively, and their trial assigned to Trial Chamber I. On 11 March 2015, Trial Chamber I joined the two cases.

On 7 May 2015, the Trial Chamber scheduled the opening of the trial for 10 November 2015, later postponing it to 28 January 2016 granting a request by Laurent Gbagbo’s defense.

2. Why are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé facing trial together?

Article 64(5) of the Rome Statute allows for what is called a joinder. This decision can be taken if the charges facing two or more accused warrant a joint single trial.

Both Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé have had similar charges confirmed against them concerning the same crimes committed during the post-election crisis between 16 December 2010 and on or around 12 April 2011 in Abidjan. Although the alleged participation of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé in the conception and implementation of a joint criminal enterprise is not exactly the same, the alleged conduct is nevertheless closely linked.

After considering the submissions and observations of the Prosecution, the Defence teams of both accused and the Legal Representatives of the Victims, the Chamber concluded that a joint trial is appropriate to ensure a fair and expeditious trial. The Chamber considered, in particular, that the joinder of the cases would serve the interest of justice by avoiding the duplication of evidence that shall be presented, reducing the exposure of and hardship to victims, who otherwise would have had, for a big part, to testify twice, and allowing for a better use of the Court’s resources. Furthermore, the Chamber considered that separate trials were not necessary to ensure that the accused will not suffer any serious prejudice. It is the first time a request for a joinder has been filed and accepted at the ICC.

3. Is it the first time that a former Head of State is facing trial at the ICC?

The trial of Côte d’Ivoire’s former President Laurent Gbagbo sets a powerful precedent as he will become the first former Head of State to be tried at the ICC. The trial sends a strong message that no-one is above the law and that no immunity applies at the ICC, regardless of the official position of the persons prosecuted for international crimes.

This trial follows other proceedings against former heads of State for their responsibility in the commission of international crimes. The Special Court for Sierra Leone found former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, guilty of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002. In 2014, Khieu Samphan, former head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, was found guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the Khmers Rouges regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, and is still prosecuted at the Extraordinary Chambers within the Courts of Cambodia for other international crimes committed during this period. The trial of Hissène Habré, former President of Chad between 1982 and 1990, is ongoing at the African Extraordinary Chambers in Senegal, who are examining his responsibility for crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes during his dictatorship. The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia prosecuted former President of Serbia and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

4. How can the ICC have jurisdiction if Côte d’Ivoire was not a State Party to the ICC Statute at the time of the crimes?

Côte d’Ivoire, which was not party to the Rome Statute at the time, accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC, and thereby the Court’s possible investigations on international crimes committed on its territory, on 18 April 2003, by a declaration made in accordance with Article 12(3) of the Statute. This declaration was signed by Mamadou Bamba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of former President Laurent Gbagbo. President Ouattara confirmed Côte d’Ivoire’s acceptance of jurisdiction in December 2010 and again in May 2011.

On 3 October 2011, the Court opened an investigation into the crimes under its jurisdiction committed in Côte d’Ivoire since 28 November 2010. On 22 February 2012, the Pre-Trial Chamber decided to expand its authorisation for the investigation in Côte d’Ivoire to include crimes committed between 19 September 2002 and 28 November 2010.

On 15 February 2013, Côte d’Ivoire ratified the Rome Statute.

5. Are victims participating in this trial?

Yes. As of date, 726 victims have been granted the right to participate in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé case. They are represented by a common legal representative, member of the Office of Public Counsel for Victims, who should represent their interests and relay their views and concerns to the Court.

The victims’ legal representative can participate in all hearings and make brief opening statements during trial. He/she can also submit elements of proof and question witnesses, if the Chamber allows him/her to.

Victims’ right to participate and be represented in ICC proceedings is an essential right, representing a key innovation of the Rome Statute. It is a crucial component to the establishment of facts and the accountability process and enables a greater impact of these The Hague based proceedings in the country concerned and on the affected communities. [2]

6. Are Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé the only persons prosecuted at the ICC relating to the crimes committed during the post-election crisis?

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has indicated on several occasions that its investigations into the situation in Côte d’Ivoire will continue on an impartial basis and will bring to justice perpetrators of crimes under its jurisdiction, from all sides. In 2015, the OTP declared it would accelerate its investigations into the crimes allegedly committed by supporters of President Ouattara. But until now, the three ongoing cases at the ICC only target the pro-Gbagbo side, namely Laurent Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo (see question 7 hereafter), and Charles Blé Goudé.

The Office of the Prosecutor recalled that the Court has limited resources and has not the capacity to prosecute all perpetrators of the gravest crimes. The OTP adopted a focused investigation strategy and a sequential approach of prosecutions, claiming it could only focus on a limited number of cases at a time. Taking into account the limited resources and the collected evidence, the OTP decided to go forward with its investigations and prosecutions against pro-Gbagbo forces, in order to guarantee efficient trials.

However, this sequential approach of prosecutions raises problems and has been criticised, notably for its impact on the Court’s perception. In the absence of prosecution of pro-Ouattara supporters, the image and legitimacy of the ICC have been affected within the Ivorian public opinion. In addition to the fact that the difficulty of investigations grows with the time, this strategy did not contribute to a constant and lasting cooperation of Côte d’Ivoire with the ICC. [3]

It is thus essential for victims of the post-election crisis and for justice in Côte d’Ivoire that, beyond this important trial against Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, the Office of the Prosecutor continues and intensifies in 2016 its investigations into the crimes allegedly committed by pro-Ouattara forces.

7. At what stage are the proceedings against Simone Gbagbo?

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Simone Gbagbo in February 2012, targeting her alleged responsibility in crimes against humanity (murders, rapes and other forms of sexual violence, other inhumane acts, persecution) committed in Côte d’Ivoire between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011. She is also facing charges before Ivorian tribunals (see question 8 hereafter) for crimes committed during the post-election crisis.

In October 2013, the Ivorian State submitted a request for inadmissibility before the ICC, on the basis of the principle of complementarity, arguing that proceedings were initiated nationally against the former first lady. In the end of 2014, the ICC reaffirmed its will and jurisdiction to prosecute Simone Gbagbo, reminding Côte d’Ivoire’s obligation to transfer her to The Hague, as proceedings against her before the Ivorian justice system were not convincing. This was confirmed by the ICC Appeals Chamber in May 2015.

In April 2015, President Ouattara said he would not transfer another suspect to the ICC, declaring that future trials would take place before national tribunals.

Simone Gbagbo was sent to trial by the Ivorian justice early 2015 and convicted for endangering State security to 20 years in prison. Observers to the trial all agreed to say that the trial did not meet the requirements of impartiality and fairness. Moreover, these offences did not match the charges before the ICC. [4]

8. Are there domestic criminal proceedings in Côte d’Ivoire relating to the post- election crisis? If so, at what stage are they?

Shortly after the end of the post-election crisis, the Ivorian government established a Special Investigation Unit in charge of, with reinforced human and financial resources, investigating the most serious crimes committed during this period and sending their perpetrators to trial.

Despite the fact that the Unit was confronted to important obstacles (threat of closing down in 2013, delay of ministerial orders and resources limitations in 2014, threats of imminent and preemptive closing of judicial investigations in 2015) [5] , two investigations on international crimes committed during this period are still ongoing and have enabled the indictment of more than 150 persons. In 2015 in particular, magistrates were able to make significant progress, including by bringing cases against high ranking officials from the pro-Ouattara side.

FIDH, MIDH and LIDHO are participating as civil parties in these proceedings and supporting nearly 300 victims. Our organisations continue to call upon the Ivorian authorities to render fair and genuine justice, which is essential for victims and lasting peace and Rule of law in Côte d’Ivoire. [6]

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