ABIDJAN — The International Criminal Court began the confirmation-of-charges hearing for former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday. Back home, his more hardline supporters insist he should be freed, while others say they only wish that the justice process be fair and impartial.
Ivory Coast’s 2010-11 post-election violence erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite losing the 2010 vote to his successor, Alassane Ouattara. According to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people died in six months of fighting.
Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague in November, 2011, on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and inhuman acts. The hearing beginning this week will allow judges to decide whether the evidence is strong enough to send him to trial.
Doubt about fair trial
In Yopougon, a suburb of the commercial capital, Abidjan, and a Gbagbo stronghold during the crisis, residents largely went about their daily lives as the hearing began on Tuesday. But, they made clear they had doubts about whether the former president would be treated fairly.
Alain Bayoro, a second-year business management student, says national reconciliation would be impossible with Gbagbo behind bars. He says it's impossible to reconcile the Ivorian population as long as Gbagbo is on trial. He wants President Ouattara to see that he is freed.
But Mabi Zagboyou, a 30-year-old bread maker, says the main problem is that justice for crimes committed during the post-election violence has been one-sided. The ICC has publicly unsealed arrest warrants only for Laurent Gbagbo and his wife, Simone. At the national level, only Gbagbo supporters have been investigated, arrested and charged, despite widespread evidence that crimes were committed on both sides.
He warns that "impunity will lead to the repetition of these crimes." He says Gbagbo is not the only one who committed crimes after the election. He wants others brought up charges, as well.
Country still divided
Scott Straus, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has studied the conflict in Ivory Coast, says Ouattara would struggle to win over hardline members of Gbagbo’s political party, the Ivorian Popular Front. But, he says one-sided justice might also alienate more moderate supporters like Zagboyou.
"I think Ouattara’s audience for a more even-handed approach to justice is the large Ivorian middle, the Ivorians who want to see a real break from the policies and the politics of the past and want a fairer, more transparent approach to some of these political problems that have beset the country for the last 15 years. I do think there’s a large middle in Cote d’Ivoire that is persuadable and that he risks losing," said Straus.
The confirmation hearing is expected to last several days, with Gbagbo speaking on the last day.