The trial of Ivory Coast ex-President Laurent Gbagbo for crimes against humanity is set to begin at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He faces charges relating to the country’s civil conflict that erupted after he lost elections in 2010. Mr Gbagbo becomes the first former head of state to stand trial at the court in The Hague. Both Mr Gbagbo, 70, and his co-accused, former militia leader Charles Ble Goude, 44, say they are innocent.
“The trial is an opportunity for reconciliation,” Mr Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit said. “It is for this reason that he awaits it with confidence.” A lawyer for Mr Ble Goude, who is accused of organising attacks on opposition supporters, described his client as a “man of peace”.
This may prove to be the most important trial in the ICC’s history. The international court was established to end impunity and bring the most powerful leaders to justice. The first appearance of a former head of state is testament to the prosecutor’s reach. And yet, despite casualties on both sides, not one of President Alassane Ouattara’s supporters has been charged, leading to accusations of victor’s justice.
During the pre-trial press briefing the victims’ representative was asked how she could represent the victims when only half of those who suffered would have their voices heard. This high-profile trial will test the ability of the ICC to obtain reliable evidence from a country in which the government has a political interest in securing a guilty verdict. Can the suspects expect a fair trial if much of the evidence comes from their enemy?