In Opening Statement, Blé Goudé Says He Called for Peace

Former Ivorian cabinet minister Charles Blé Goudé told the International Criminal Court (ICC) he was a consistent advocate for peace in the years before the presidential elections of 2010 and after those elections.

Blé Goudé, who was also the leader of the Alliance of Young Patriots, denied on Tuesday that he was the undisputed leader of an umbrella organization of youth groups that supported former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo.

According to the prosecution Blé Goudé led an umbrella organization of pro-Gbagbo youth groups called the Patriotic Galaxy. The prosecution alleges the Patriotic Galaxy was made up of disparate groups that agreed on the need to keep Gbagbo in power by any means.

Blé Goudé denied that such an organization as the Patriotic Galaxy existed or that he ordered the disparate pro-Gbagbo youth groups to violently confront their rivals. Blé Goudé, however, said that he knew Gbagbo and was proud to know him.

“I say without shame that I am afraid of war. I do not say it out of cowardice,” said Blé Goudé. “I say it out of responsibility.” Blé Goudé served as Youth, Vocational Training and Employment Minister in Gbagbo’s government between December 2010 and April 2011.

Blé Goudé is facing four counts of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in violence in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, between November 2010 and April 2011. His co-accused, Gbagbo, also faces four counts of crimes against humanity. The violence followed the second round of voting in the presidential election in November 2010, which Gbagbo and his rival, Alassane Ouattara, both claimed to have won.

For about 40 minutes Blé Goudé told the court he had taken several initiatives to bring an end to conflict in Ivory Coast from the time a rebellion against Gbagbo began in 2002. From time to time Blé Goudé looked towards the public gallery as he made his statement. At one point, as Gbagbo stepped out of the court room, he patted Blé Goudé on the shoulder as he passed him.

Blé Goudé also denied that he could have incited anyone to attack people from the Dioula ethnic group or Muslims as alleged by the prosecution. He said he grew up in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan where he went to school with Muslims and played with them as a young boy. He denied he could have incited any one to attack people in Abobo as the prosecution has alleged.

In between his statement to Trial Chamber I, Blé Goudé’s legal team played several videos. In one video clip Blé Goudé is seen receiving a delegation of rebel leaders in Gbagbo’s home village and later the two parties address a rally calling for peace. A short documentary played in court showed Blé Goudé involved in a campaign called Caravan of Peace, and he is seen meeting with several people who are victims of rebel attacks. Another video clip showed Blé Goudé in an interview on the state-owned television station, RTI, in which he is calling on the leaders of the main political parties to talk to each other for the sake of peace in Ivory Coast.

Blé Goudé made his statement at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings. Before he spoke, his lawyers made their opening statement.

Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops, the lead lawyer of Blé Goudé’s defense team, said they would be calling witnesses who will testify to Blé Goudé not having any control over the youth groups the prosecution alleged he controlled. Knoops also said the witnesses would testify Blé Goudé did not advocate violence or give arms to any youths, but instead he called for passive resistance.

“Mr. President, our case, as we intend to present it to the court, will show the prosecution narrative is close to blindness,” Knoops said. Knoops was indirectly referring to a quote he had used earlier in his statement from American boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who said prosecutors are a problem to the criminal justice system only if they show “willful blindness.” Carter was wrongly imprisoned for 19 years for murders he did not commit, and when he was released he set up an organisation to help people who have been wrongly convicted.

Knoops said the defense would show that Blé Goudé was not a member of Gbagbo’s inner circle as the prosecution alleged. He said they would also show that Blé Goudé and Gbagbo did not have unrestricted contact as the prosecution stated.

Claver N’Dry said the prosecution’s case did not match the facts. He claimed the prosecution had been manipulated by certain political interest and particular newspapers that were “fabricators of enemies.” Several times in his presentation, N’Dry used the expression, “fabrication of enemies” while challenging the prosecution case. At the end of his presentation, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser said it was wrong for N’Dry to accuse the prosecution of fabricating a case, and he did not want it repeated. Judge Tarfusser said the judges will hear all sides of the case and make a decision based on the evidence.

Another of Blé Goudé’s lawyers, Seri Simplice Zokou, questioned a video clip the prosecution used in its opening statement in which Blé Goudé is seen wearing a uniform, which the prosecution said was a military uniform. This, the prosecution had said, showed Blé Goudé living up to his nickname of “general of the streets.”

Zokou asked why the video that was shown was in black and white and not in color. Zokou said the video was taken from footage of the state-owned broadcaster, RTI, which he said had been broadcasting in color for decades.

He said that if the video had been in color, it would be clear the epaulettes on Blé Goudé’s shoulders were in the colors of the flag of Ivory Coast. Zokou said it would have also been clear that the cap Blé Goudé wore had folkloric characters. He said Blé Goudé’s dress was more a theatrical costume than military uniform.

“During the time of “flower power” Mr. Charles Blé Goudé could have been a hippy. But that was another time,” said Zokou.

With Blé Goudé’s presentation at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, all parties and participants had made their opening statements. Next in the trial of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé is the testimony of prosecution witnesses.