The lawyer for victims told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that victims of the violence that erupted at the end of 2010 in Ivory Coast see the court as the only place where the truth of what happened to them will be heard.
Paolina Massidda said on Friday that the victims do not think the criminal justice system in Ivory Coast will prosecute the suspected perpetrators of the post-election violence.
Massidda said this during her opening statement, which she made on the second day of the trial of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former cabinet minister Charles Blé Goudé. Massidda is representing 726 victims of attacks in Ivory Coast’s economic capital, Abidjan.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude each face four counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in violence that occurred in Abidjan between November 2010 and April 2011.
Massidda told the judges of Trial Chamber I that the victims have doubts about a process underway in Ivory Coast to reconcile the country’s citizens and make reparations for the losses suffered during that violence.
“The victims place all their hopes in the court [the ICC] so that at last the truth will come out,” Massidda told the court.
“This process [at the ICC] means that they will speak, they will share their experiences,” she said. “Throughout the proceedings I will try to convey the individual, the unique concerns of each victim.”
She said the victims see the opportunity to tell their story at the ICC as, “an element of what can be termed reparations in the general sense of the term.”
Massidda said the victims suffered physical and sexual assault and humiliation. She said businesses that belonged to the victims were looted. To date the victims still have difficulty rebuilding their lives, said Massidda, adding they did not have money for such things as healthcare.
“The victims still live in the areas where they suffered the crimes. The victims are still co-habitating with their tormentors,” she said.
Before Massidda spoke on Friday, senior trial lawyer Eric MacDonald finished presenting the prosecution’s opening statement in the trial. MacDonald gave details of the shooting of demonstrators on March 3, 2011. The demonstrators were marching in support of Gbagbo’s rival, Alassane Ouattara. By the time of the March 3, 2011 demonstration, Ouattara had been declared winner of the presidential election held in November 2010 and recognised as such by the United Nations and the African Union. Gbagbo, however, still claimed to be president.
MacDonald showed clips of a video in which a military armoured vehicle is seen firing into the crowd of demonstrators. In another clip, the bodies of seven women demonstrators lying on the ground can be seen. MacDonald said these women were killed by armed forces on March 3, 2011.
He said the prosecution will be calling experts who will prove that the video had not been doctored as had been claimed at the time by the state-owned broadcaster, RTI. MacDonald also said the prosecution had been able to locate in a mass grave the bodies of three of the women seen in the video. He said the prosecution was able to identify them using DNA analysis and they would be presenting that evidence in court. He said the prosecution was thorough about this particular incident because different government officials denied at the time the armed forces were involved in any way with those killings.
MacDonald also gave details of the shelling of the Abobo neighbourhood of Abidjan on March 17, 2011 in which about 30 people are estimated to have died. He said also in this case government officials denied such an incident occurred. He said the government spokesman said on the state-owned broadcaster that an investigation into the incident found no evidence of any mortar shells or victims of the attack.
“To this date shrapnel marks are still visible on the walls of Siaka Kone market [in Abobo]. The surviving victims still bear the scars of their wounds,” MacDonald told the court.
On Friday, only MacDonald and Massidda spoke, even though the defense were expected to start making their opening statements in the afternoon. Once the prosecution and the lawyer for victims finished their opening statements, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser said the court would adjourn until Monday and the defense would have until the end of Tuesday to make their opening statements. He said the first prosecution witness will begin testifying on Wednesday.