Defense Says Case Against Gbagbo is a “Catastrophe”

Lawyers for former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo have said the prosecution of the International Criminal Court (ICC) developed a case theory, fitted the facts to suit it but failed to prove Gbagbo’s role in Ivory Coast’s post-election violence.

Professor Dov Jacobs told the ICC on Monday that the incidents the prosecution alleges Gbagbo had a role in did not happen as the prosecution states or those incidents were staged. Jacobs also said the prosecution had failed to prove the authenticity of government documents they relied on as evidence against Gbagbo.

He was making a presentation on Monday as part of the opening statement of the defense of Gbagbo. The former president, whose trial began last Thursday, has been charged with four counts of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the violence that took place in the areas of Abobo, Cocody, and Yopougon in Abidjan between November 2010 and April 2011. Gbagbo’s co-accused, former cabinet minister Charles Blé Goudé, also faces four counts of crimes against humanity.

Jacobs gave as an example the December 16, 2010 killings that happened in Cocody near the headquarters of the state-owned broadcaster, RTI. He said the prosecution alleged that the armed forces killed peaceful demonstrators protesting in support of Gbagbo’s rival at the time, Alassane Ouattara.

He said there was no peaceful demonstration as forces backing Ouattara had planned to attack and seize the RTI headquarters on that day. Jacobs said this is why there the army and police were in the vicinity of the RTI and fired to stop the seizure of RTI by pro-Ouattara forces. He said the pro-Ouattara forces used civilians as a human shield.

Jacobs played a clip of a video recorded on December 15, 2010 in which Guillaume Soro, prime minister in Ouattara’s government, is seen telling men in military fatigues that he was ordered by Ouattara to go and install a new director-general of RTI the following day, and he would need them [the armed men] to ensure that is done. Two men in military fatigues tell the other uniformed men that they do not need to add to what has been said, and the men should be ready to deploy the following day.

Professor Jacobs also spoke about the March 3, 2011 incident in which the prosecution said seven women were killed in Abobo. He said the incident was staged. Jacobs said the prosecution said it was a demonstration of only women, but in the video clip men could also be seen.

He said one problem with the video is that in the first frames one can see women demonstrators, but in the next frame one sees men. Jacobs said that in the clip showing dead women lying on the ground, one woman is seeing rising up and someone saying in French, “Lie down, we are not finished.” He questioned why no one in the crowd bothered to help the woman, who was clearly conscious and looked injured. He also said the witnesses who are to testify on the incident have made contradictory statements about what happened on that day.

It is only in September 2014 the prosecution got hold of the logbooks in which the visits to the presidential palace were recorded and other government documents they are relying on as evidence, Jacobs said. He went on state that the French military seized all documents in the presidential palace when they raided it in April 2011 and that the prosecution had not authenticated those documents.

Jacobs said even if one accepted meetings took place, the prosecution did not have proof of what was discussed. He said in some cases there were records of cabinet meetings, which, he said, were to be expected in a time of crisis.

“Lastly, the fact the prosecution does not see these contradictions as being a problem does show a reality, even if it is not the reality of the Cote d’Ivoire,” Jacobs concluded.

Before Jacobs spoke, three other lawyers in defense of Gbagbo presented. Agathe Bahi Baroan spoke about Ivorian society by showing how Ivory Coast was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. She challenged the prosecution’s case theory that Gbagbo could have been involved in violence against people of a particular ethnic group or religious affiliation. Baroan said it is the forces that backed Ouattara that attacked people of particular ethnic groups from the time they started a rebellion in 2002. She also said that since Ouattara became president in 2011, Ivory Coast now has a population of hundreds of political prisoners.

Jennifer Naouri spoke at length about the political and economic history of Ivory Coast to explain the defense’s view of the context of Gbagbo’s presidency and subsequent detention at the ICC. In addition to being the world’s largest exporter of cocoa and third largest exporter of coffee, Naouri said that Ivory Coast has other natural resources, such as oil and minerals.

Naouri explained that at Ivory Coast’s independence, the government entered into a military and economic pact with its former colonial master, France. This pact allowed France to keep a military presence in Ivory Coast and gave France preferential rights to exploit Ivory Coast’s resources.

In exchange, France ensured the protection of the country’s president. Naouri showed a diagram as an example of that protection. She said the diagram showed a tunnel was built between the presidential palace and the French ambassador’s home. She said this allowed for the president to escape in case of danger and be evacuated away from the country if need be.

Naouri said this was part of France’s policy called Françafrique that began during the tenure of Charles de Gaulle as French president. She said it was a policy France used in several of its former African colonies.

“It is because of challenging those arrangements and the CFA [the common currency of several West African states whose reserves are held by France] that Laurent Gbagbo would be condemned to destitution by France,” Naouri contended.

She also spoke at length about the rebel group that became known in the lead up to the 2010 election as the Forces Nouvelles [New Forces]. This is the group that began a rebellion against Gbagbo in 2002, controlled the country’s north, and at one point joined Gbagbo’s government before supporting Ouattara. Naouri said the group received arms, equipment, and other support from Burkina Faso and France despite a United Nations arms embargo being in place. She said some of the support was in the form of Burkina Faso training mercenaries from Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea who joined the ranks of the rebels.

Naouri listed the commanders of the rebels who were accused of committing or ordering atrocities and were later absorbed in the presidential security detail of Ouattara or became senior military officials. She said these former rebel commanders were named by human rights organizations and the United Nations group monitoring the arms embargo in their reports on violations committed in Ivory Coast.

“We can say that Ouattara and his forces wanted to seize power by force and the battle of Abidjan was, simply put, the implementation of his strategy,” said Gbagbo’s lead lawyer, Emmanuel Altit, when he began the opening statement of the defense.

“The year is 2016. Five years of investigation to come to this form of bankruptcy,” said Altit. “Five years to prepare a certain judicial catastrophe that some judges in the pre-trial chamber saw coming.”

“It is your task to speak out against what the prosecution has done. To set the record straight,” Altit told the judges.

“You can say no to an old world, an archaic world. A world where violence and domination triumph over all else. You can speak for modern times,” Altit said.

Blé Goudé’s defense will make its opening statement on Tuesday.