Names: Laurent Koudou Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé

Laurent Koudou Gbagbo Portrait

Laurent Koudou Gbagbo                                    © Oceni Assani / Newscom

Charles Blé Goudé Portrait

Charles Blé Goudé                                             © Michael Kooren / Newscom

Nationality: Ivorian

Arrested: Laurent Gbagbo was arrested on April 11, 2011. Charles Blé Goudé was arrested on January 17, 2013.

Handed over to the International Criminal Court: Gbagbo was handed over to the ICC on November 30, 2011, and Blé Goudé was handed over on March 22, 2014.

Cases Joined: March 11, 2015

Charges: Gbagbo and Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts (or—in the alternative—attempted murder) and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

Procedural History: Charges were confirmed against Gbagbo and Blé Goudé on June 12, 2014 and December 11, 2014, respectively. Their trial was assigned to Trial Chamber I, which joined the two cases on March 11, 2015 to ensure judicial efficiency.

Trial start date: January 28, 2016

Acquittal: January 15, 2019

How did the ICC become involved in Côte d’Ivoire?

In April 2003, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire declared that it accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court “for the purposes of identifying, investigating and trying the perpetrators and accomplices of acts committed on Ivorian territory since the events of 19 September 2002.” The Presidency of Côte d’Ivoire reconfirmed this acceptance in December 2010 and May 2011. Because of this acceptance of jurisdiction, Côte d’Ivoire is bound to cooperate with the ICC in its investigation and case.

In late 2004, then-ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested information about the conflict from the Ivorian government. On January 28, 2005, Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo announced that he would send a pre-investigation team to Côte d’Ivoire to establish whether there was sufficient information to open a formal investigation. In June 2011, after completing a preliminary examination, the Prosecutor requested authorization from Pre-Trial Chamber III to open an investigation into the situation in the Côte d’Ivoire. The prosecutor made this request on his own initiative, or proprio motu.

On October 3, 2011, Pre-Trial Chamber III determined that there were potential cases that would be admissible in the Côte d’Ivoire situation and granted the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation. Later that month, the prosecutor requested the chamber to issue an arrest warrant against Laurent Gbagbo. Pre-Trial Chamber III also issued arrest warrants against Simone Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, both of whom have been charged with crimes related to the post-electoral violence.

The prosecutor limited the investigation to crimes committed from November 28, 2010 onwards. The pre-trial chamber also requested that the prosecutor submit a report with information on possible crimes committed between 2002 and 2010, which the prosecutor submitted on November 3, 2011. The pre-trial chamber decided to expand its authorization for the investigation in the Côte d’Ivoire situation to include Rome Statute crimes allegedly committed between September 19, 2002 and November 28, 2010.

Why did Trial Chamber I join the cases of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé?

In December 2014, the Office of the Prosecutor requested that Trial Chamber I join the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé cases “in the interest of justice and judicial economy.” The prosecution’s request argued that the facts and their legal characterizations in the confirmation of charges decisions for Gbagbo and Blé Goudé are almost identical. The prosecution accuses them of sharing and coordinating the implementation of a common plan that led to the commission of their alleged crimes. The prosecution contended that a joint trial would avoid the duplication of evidence and inconsistent verdicts, while reducing the hardship to witnesses and the risk that witnesses would become unavailable after testifying. The prosecution also argued that any delay would be offset by a more expeditious joint trial.

Gbagbo’s defense was against joining the trials. It claimed that the charges, including the facts and their legal characterization, must be identical to warrant joinder, which the prosecution failed to demonstrate. Joining the cases despite the different charges would require the accused to defend against unconfirmed charges. Gbagbo’s defense also argued that joinder would delay proceedings, witnesses would be perceived and relied on differently for each of the accused, and a joint trial could still result in inconsistent verdicts.

The lawyers representing Blé Goudé similarly rejected the prosecution’s request for joinder. The Blé Goudé defense contended that joinder would prejudice the rights of the accused because it would “assume the existence of an alleged ‘common plan’ or connection between [both of the accused].” Consequently, joinder would result in the admission of evidence relevant to only one of the accused, and create a “serious risk” that the chamber would consider this evidence to modify the charges to include co-perpetration for all charged incidents.

Although a pre-trial chamber previously authorized joining the cases against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui in 2008, this incident represents the first time a request for joinder has been filed before a trial chamber.

Article 64(5) of the Rome Statute and Rule 136 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence contain the applicable law governing joinder. Article 64(5) establishes the chamber’s discretionary power to join charges, while Rule 136 provides guidance with regard to the exercise of such discretion. The chamber reads both Article 64(5) and Rule 136 together when deciding whether separate trials are necessary in order to avoid “serious prejudice” to the accused and to protect the interests of justice.

Trial Chamber I granted the prosecution’s request to join the cases. The chamber held that it has the discretionary authority to join charges even when those charges are not identical. The judges reasoned that the charges against both Gbagbo and Blé Goudé arise from the same crimes allegedly committed during the same four incidents by the same direct perpetrators who targeted the same victims, and, therefore, are sufficiently linked. The chamber further held that a joint trial would not pose “serious prejudice” to the accused, emphasizing that the chamber has no power to authorize amendments to the facts and has not made any assumptions relating the charges that might lead to their amendment.

The chamber also held that a joint trial would not hinder the interests of justice, but would avoid the duplication of evidence and the risk of inconsistent treatment of evidence. Requiring witnesses to testify twice would pose hardship to witnesses and increase the risk of exposure of protected witnesses. Regarding judicial economy, the chamber reasoned that two separate trials would likely require more court hours and resources than one joint trial.

How does the ICC have jurisdiction over this situation?

According to Pre-Trial Chamber III, the ICC has jurisdiction over this case because the case involves crimes included in the Rome Statute (crimes against humanity) that were committed after September 19, 2002 on the territory of Côte d’Ivoire by Ivorian nationals.

Côte d’Ivoire signed the Rome Statute on November 30, 1998, and became a party to the Statute on February 15, 2013. Prior to Côte d’Ivoire’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the ICC would not normally have had the ability, or jurisdiction, to hear cases involving crimes committed in that country; however, in April 2003, Côte d’Ivoire made a special declaration and accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC over crimes committed there after September 19, 2002. Côte d’Ivoire was the first non-State Party to accept the Court’s jurisdiction in this way. Since the ratification, the Court’s jurisdiction over this case derives from the country’s status as a State Party, rather than the special declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Why did the ICC arrest Gbagbo and Blé Goudé?

Pre-Trial Chamber III found that there were reasonable grounds to believe Gbagbo is responsible for crimes against humanity committed from December 2010 to April 2011 in the violent aftermath of Ivorian presidential elections. In a separate decision, the Chamber found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Blé Goudé was a member of Gbagbo’s inner circle who discussed and coordinated the implementation of a common plan resulting in the alleged crimes against humanity during the post-electoral violence.

The chamber found that it was necessary to arrest Gbagbo and Blé Goudé to make sure that they would appear before the ICC and ensure that they would not use their political clout or economic resources to obstruct the investigation. The chamber also considered that their arrests were necessary to prevent further crimes from being committed.

How and when did Gbagbo and Blé Goudé arrive at the ICC?

Gbagbo was surrendered to the court on November 30, 2011 and had his initial appearance on December 5, 2011.

Blé Goudé was surrendered on March 22, 2014 and had his initial appearance on March 27, 2014.

Why was Gbagbo’s confirmation of charges hearing delayed?

On August 2, 2012, Pre-Trial Chamber I postponed Gbagbo’s confirmation of charges hearing to determine whether he was fit for trial. Three medical experts were appointed with the instructions determine whether he had any medical conditions and, if so, how those conditions would affect his ability to stand trial. Three medical evaluations of Gbagbo’s fitness were submitted on July 19, 2012.

The Chamber stated that neither the Rome Statute nor the Rules of Procedure and Evidence addressed an accused’s fitness to stand trial. However, the chamber clarified that determining whether an accused is fit to stand trial does not only depend on the existence of particular medial conditions, but instead “primarily [on] whether these medical conditions affect the capacity of the person concerned to meaningfully exercise his or her fair trial rights” provided for in Article 67(1) of the Rome Statute.

The chamber decided that Gbagbo was physically fit to take part in the proceedings against him. The chamber based its conclusions about Gbagbo’s mental fitness primarily on the written report and testimony of Dr. Pierre Lamothe, a psychiatric expert. Lamothe established that Gbagbo possessed the capacities to understand the charges against him, as well as the conduct and possible consequences of proceedings against him. Gbagbo’s confirmation of charges hearing took place from February 19 to 28, 2013, and Pre-Trial Chamber I confirmed the charges against Gbagbo on June 12, 2014.

Who is paying for the defense of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé?

On December 28, 2011, the Registrar of the ICC granted the Gbagbo defense’s request for provisional legal aid to help pay for Gbagbo’s legal costs, a normal procedure for defendants before international courts who cannot pay for legal representation. The provision request was granted while the ICC reviewed Gbagbo’s financial status and can be revoked if the court finds that Gbagbo can bear the cost of his defense.

Similarly, on April 24, 2014, the Registrar granted the Blé Goudé defense’s request for legal aid.

Will victims participate in this trial?

Victims are allowed limited participation in trials before the ICC. They are not considered parties to the case, like the prosecution and defense, but are allowed to have legal representatives question witnesses about issues that concern victims, and are allowed to testify. Pre-Trial Chamber I has authorized 727 persons to participate as victims in the proceedings against Gbagbo and Blé Goudé.

No Case to Answer Motion and Acquittal

After the conclusion of the prosecution case in June 2018, Gbagbo filed a motion for acquittal and immediate release on July 23, 2018. Shortly thereafter, on August 3, the defense of Blé Goudé filed a “No Case to Answer” motion, and Trial Chamber I held hearings on both defense motions in October and November 2018.

On January 15, 2019, the majority of Trial Chamber I, despite acknowledging the violence that occurred in the aftermath of the 2010 elections in Cote d’Ivoire, acquitted both Gbagbo and Blé Goudé. The majority of judges found that the prosecution failed to submit sufficient evidence to demonstrate the responsibility of the defendants for the crimes they were charged.

The majority, in particular, noted that the prosecution failed to demonstrate that there was a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power through the use of violence against citizens; failed to demonstrate that an alleged policy to direct attacks at civilians existed; failed to demonstrate that the alleged crimes were in pursuit of a state or organizational policy; and failed to demonstrate that speeches given by the accused constituted ordering or inducing the alleged crimes.

The January 2019 decision to acquit Gbagbo and Blé Goudé was pronounced orally, and the trial chamber did not make the written decision available until July 16, 2019. The prosecution has 30 days from the latter date to appeal.

Will the ICC prosecute other suspects in Côte d’Ivoire?

In its October 3, 2011 decision, grating the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into alleged crimes in Côte d’Ivoire since November 2010, the pre-trial chamber also requested that the prosecutor present any additional information concerning other possible crimes committed between 2002 and 2010. The prosecutor presented such information on November 3, 2011. Based on this information, on February 22, 2012, the chamber decided to expand its authorization for the investigation in the Côte d’Ivoire situation to include Rome Statute crimes allegedly committed between September 19, 2002 and November 28, 2010.

On February 29, 2012, Pre-Trial Chamber III issued a warrant for the arrest of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of Laurent Gbagbo and the former-first lady of Côte d’Ivoire. The arrest warrant was unsealed on November 22, 2012 and remains outstanding. Simone Gbagbo is charged with individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts, allegedly committed in the context of post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

Despite a warrant of arrest from the ICC, Côte d’Ivoire officials have refused to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the court. Instead, officials opted to try her in a domestic court. On March 9, 2015, a court in Côte d’Ivoire convicted her of crimes against humanity following post-election violence in 2010 and sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

The admissibility of the case against Simone Gbagbo represents a point of contention between the ICC and officials in Côte d’Ivoire. On September 30, 2013, Côte d’Ivoire challenged the admissibility of the case, arguing that the same case was being prosecuted at the national level. In a decision dated December 11, 2014, Pre-Trial Chamber I rejected Côte d’Ivoire’s challenge, concluding that the domestic authorities were not taking adequate steps to ascertain whether Simone Gbagbo is criminally responsible for the conduct alleged in the case before the ICC. Côte d’Ivoire appealed the pre-trail chamber’s decision on December 17, 2015, and on May 27, 2015, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC confirmed that the case against Simone Gbagbo is admissible before the court.

What is the background of the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire?

The 2010 – 2011 violence transformed what was a primarily ethnic issue into a political issue and a catalyst for violence. The elections were intended to advance a tenuous peace following a 2002 civil war in which the country was split into an opposition-held north and Government-controlled south. The election had been postponed six times, and was the first election since 2000, before the conflict began.

Côte d’Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960, and President Felix Houphouet-Boigny took power. The country experienced relative economic prosperity due to cocoa and coffee exports. Many immigrants, mostly Muslims from Mali and Burkina Faso, came to Côte d’Ivoire to cultivate cocoa. During this period, ethnic tensions were relatively rare. However, the price of coffee and cocoa fell in the 1980s, increasing the poverty rate and engendering discord between northern immigrants and southern farmers.

Laurent Gbagbo, a history professor and trade unionist, advocated multi-party rule. He was imprisoned from 1971 to 1973 for “subversive teaching” and “fomenting insecurity.” After he secretly created the Front Populaire Ivoirien (Ivorian Popular Front, FPI) political party in 1982, he was forced to spend much of the 1980s in exile in France.

Gbagbo returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 1988 to stand in the country’s first multi-party elections as the head of the FPI. Houphouet-Boigny beat Gbagbo, but soon after Gbagbo won a seat in the National Assembly.

Houphouet-Boigny appointed Alassane Ouattara as prime minister. Ouattara, a Muslim born in the north of Côte d’Ivoire, was allegedly born to Burkinabe parents, a claim he denies. He spent much of his childhood in Burkina Faso. He was an economist who had risen through the ranks at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Central Bank of West African States. His appointment prompted Gbagbo to complain about a government controlled by “foreigners.” Gbagbo was sentenced to two years imprisonment for leading student protests against the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, PDCI). Gbagbo blamed Ouattara for his arrest.

After Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993, Henri Konan Bédié became President. Targeting his political rival Ouattara, who, along with Gbagbo, ran against him in the 1995 elections, President Bédié introduced the concept of Ivoirité or “Ivorianness.” Bédié claimed this was an attempt to strengthen national identity. However, in a country where nearly one fourth of the people are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, this ultra-nationalist concept became a pretext for excluding them from political participation and citizenship. Bédié won the 1995 election after Ouattara’s Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) party and Gbagbo’s FPI boycotted the election.

In July 1999, Ouattara left his position at the International Monetary Fund with a plan to run for president in 2000. He was a divisive force, with some claiming he is from Burkina Faso, not Côte d’Ivoire. The country split along ethnic and religious lines. That same year, in October, Robert Guei staged a military coup and overthrew Bédié, who fled to France.

In 2000, a new constitution formalized the concept of Ivoirité and forbid anyone from running for president who was not born in Côte d’Ivoire to two Ivorian parents. This excluded Ouattara from the 2000 elections, as he was accused of being Burkinabe. The new law also created contention about the property rights of “non-Ivorians,” mostly northerners who supported Ouattara.

After early results from the October 2000 elections showed Gbagbo in the lead, Guei dissolved the electoral commission, announced that he had won and declared himself President. However, a popular uprising forced him to flee. Gbagbo, considered to be the real winner of the elections, was made President.

Ouattara, who had been excluded from the elections, called for new polls. Fighting broke out between Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters, demonstrating ethnic and religious tensions in the country—Ouattara’s supporters were generally Muslims from the north, while Gbagbo supporters were generally Christians from the south. The fighting intensified and continued through the legislative elections that December.

After an attempted coup in 2001, President Gbagbo and Ouattara met and agreed to strive for reconciliation. Ouattara returned to Côte d’Ivoire after a year in exile in France and Gabon, and in 2002, his RDR opposition party was given four ministerial posts in the government.

On September 19, 2002, conflict erupted in the country. The rebel group Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire (Patriotic Movement of Côte d’Ivoire, MPCI), led by Guillaume Soro, attacked targets in Abidjan and towns in the north. The MPCI, together with two other rebel movements, the Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix, (Movement for Justice and Peace, MJP) and the Mouvement Populaire Ivoirien du Grand Ouest (Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West, MPIGO), took control in the north. The three rebel movements joined together in an alliance called the Forces Nouvelles (New Forces), which called for the removal of Gbagbo and the end of discrimination and political exclusion of northern Ivorians. During this time, Charles Blé Goudé lead a student movement, the Congres Panafricain et des Jeunes Patriotes (Pan-African Congress of the Young Patriots, COJEP), which he allegedly turned into a militia group that supported Gbagbo.

There were bloody armed clashes between government forces and the rebels, with all sides targeting civilians and committing serious crimes. Both the rebels and the government recruited Liberian mercenaries, who were implicated in civilian killings. The AU, UN and ECOWAS sent 6,000 troops to Côte d’Ivoire, and France sent additional troops to protect its citizens.

In January 2003, the French brokered a peace and power-sharing agreement, the Linas-Marcoussis Accords. However, pro-Gbagbo militias rioted the day after it was signed, and fighting continued. After a ceasefire was signed in May 2003, the war was declared over in July 2003. Part of the agreement included a power-sharing government. However, fighting broke out again in December, and in early 2004, the UN deployed a peacekeeping mission, UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), with some 8,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 police officers. This force was also backed by French soldiers from the Force Licorne.

2004 saw the conflict intensify and the imposition of a UN arms embargo. Government reforms were put into place in December, including removal of a provision that the president must have Ivorian parents. Elections planned for 2005 were called off, and Gbagbo maintained power. The UN Security Council broadened the arms embargo to include diamonds as well.

Peace talks and violence continued until March 2007, when the government and New Forces rebels signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA), a power-sharing agreement. Gbagbo declared the war over and Guillaume Soro, leader of the New Forces, was named Prime Minister.

Although the situation remained tense, disarmament began in 2007 and continued into 2008. Elections planned for 2008 were postponed seven times, due to delays in voter registration, security concerns, and Gbagbo’s allegations that the conditions of the OPA were not being met. The elections were finally held on October 31, 2010, and saw an impressive 85 percent voter turnout.

The October 2010 elections, however, did not provide a majority winner and required a runoff between the top two candidates, Gbagbo and Ouattara. Gbagbo had finished first with 38 percent of the vote. Ouattara came in second, with 32 percent of the vote. Henri Konan Bédié was third, with 25 percent of the vote.

The presidential runoff election was held on November 28, 2010. According to UN-certified results announced by the Ivorian Electoral Commission (IEC), Ouattara won the election with 54 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent percent for Gbagbo. The international community endorsed these results.

Gbagbo, however, rejected the results and appealed to the IEC. Gbagbo claimed there was voter fraud and intimidation in several regions of the country, in spite of UN, international and domestic election observers who declared the process free and democratic.

The IEC subsequently annulled its original results and claimed that Gbagbo had won the election with 51.5 percent of the vote against Ouattara’s 48.6 percent. The international community, including the UN, African Union, ECOWAS and the European Union, remained supportive of Ouattara and the initial election results.

Ultimately, both candidates claimed they won and subsequently formed opposing governments. Ouattara operated out of the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, which was blockaded by pro-Gbagbo forces. International organizations, including ECOWAS and the AU, repeatedly appealed to Gbagbo to step down and imposed financial restrictions on Gbagbo, his inner circle, and government financial institutions.

Months of growing violence between the two political groups erupted into a full-scale conflict. In late February 2011, Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s Prime Minister, launched a military offensive with the Republican Forces, comprised mostly of soldiers from the New Forces. Blé Goudé—who had been appointed Gbagbo’s Youth Minister—allegedly lead the “Young Patriots” militia in various attacks and committing crimes targeting Ouattara supporters.

On March 30, 2011, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1975 (2011). The Security Council called for Gbagbo to step down and appealed for an immediate end to the violence. UNOCI began military operations on April 4, 2011 in order to stop attacks on UN peacekeepers and to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population. Two days later, pro-Gbagbo forces resumed attacks in Abidjan, employing heavy weapons in attacks against the government, civilians, and UN peacekeepers. On April 9, 2011, Gbagbo forces started a concentrated attack on the Golf Hotel.

On April 10, 2011, the UNOCI and French Licorne forces began a military operation in Abidjan against Gbagbo’s forces. UNOCI forces received instructions from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to use “all necessary means” to prevent Gbagbo forces from continuing its use of heavy weapons in Abidjan.

On April 11, Gbagbo surrendered to Ouattara’s forces and Ouattara’s government took him into custody.

Ouattara was sworn in as President of Côte d’Ivoire on May 6, 2011. His inauguration was held on May 21, 2011. In September 2011 a Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched with the goal of forging unity between the opposition groups.