The prosecution and the defense of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former cabinet minister Charles Blé Goudé each expressed confidence their side would prevail, a day before the trial of Gbagbo and Ble Goude began at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
ICC Fatou Bensouda and the lead lawyers for Gbagbo and Blé Goudé spoke separately on Wednesday at a news conference held at the ICC. The lawyer for victims, Paolina Massidda, who also spoke at the news conference, said the victims said were pleased the trial was finally beginning.
Bensouda told journalists that she was sure the prosecution would be able to prove its case against Gbagbo and Blé Goudé beyond reasonable doubt.
Gbagbo’s lead lawyer, Emmanuel Altit, described the trial as “essential” for history and the people of Ivory Coast. Altit said the truth will emerge during the trial, “so that all those who suffered would not have suffered in vain.”
Blé Goudé’s lead lawyer, Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops, said the trial was an opportunity to show that his client was a man of peace.
Bensouda was asked to comment on why the prosecution seemed to be biased towards one side of the post-election violence that gripped Ivory Coast after the October-November 2010 presidential election. She said it was a matter of resources, but in 2015 she had intensified investigations into allegations against the camp of current Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara. Bensouda declined to give any more details on the ongoing investigations.
During the 2010 presidential election, Ouattara was the main rival against Gbagbo, who had been president since 2000. For a significant part of his presidency, Gbagbo faced a rebellion that resulted in Ivory Coast being divided and a series of peace talks being held to end it. The rebel group, which backed Ouattara in the 2010 election, has also been accused of committing atrocities, but to date none of the allegations against it have been brought before the ICC. This has led to the ICC prosecution being accused of bias.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Bensouda said there were a lot of rumors circulating on social media that she wanted to dispel. She said no prosecution witness had withdrawn as had been alleged on social media. She also said that it was not true that the prosecution had sought to further postpone the trial.
Massidda said she represented women, men, and children who had suffered humiliation and physical and sexual violence between November 27, 2010 and March 20, 2011.
“For others, the death of those close to them is inscribed in an indelible manner in their memory,” Massidda said.
In response to a question about whether as lawyer for the victims she acted as a second prosecutor, Massidda said that at times the interests of the victims may be the same as that of the prosecution but that was not always the case. She gave as an example disagreements the victims had with some of the positions the prosecution took during the confirmation of charges hearings.
Altit was asked about the health of Gbagbo and what his feelings were just hours to the trial. Altit said Gbagbo was strong and courageous. He said it this was not the first time Gbagbo was in prison, adding that Gbagbo had been imprisoned for two years when he advocated for an end to the one-party state in Ivory Coast.
Knoops answered the question of what Blé Goudé’s feelings were hours before his trial by saying being in the ICC’s custody had had a huge impact on Blé Goudé.
“When he came here last year, he came as a man with hope, confidence. He still has this confidence, but he faces difficult times in prison. It is not easy for a man like Blé Goudé to sit behind bars without any prospect about how long this trial is going to take place,” said Knoops.
When the trial opens on Thursday, the prosecution will be the first to make their opening statement and have been allotted four hours to do so. They will be followed by the lawyer for victims, who has been allocated an hour to make her opening statement. The defense teams of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will follow, and they have been given three hours each to make their opening statements.
The prosecution has indicated they intend to call a total of 138 witnesses. They told Trial Chamber I that they expected to rely on 4,790 items of evidence and take about 522 hours to make their case. This is according to the chamber’s directions on the conduct of proceedings issued on September 3, 2015.
Gbagbo andBlé Goudé each face four counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in the violence that followed the first round of voting in the 2010 presidential election. They were handed over to the ICC at different dates, and the charges against them were confirmed at different times. However, in a March 11, 2015 decision, Trial Chamber I decided to join the two cases because they had similar elements and the judges determined it would more efficient to try them together.