Ivory Coast ex-first lady goes on trial for war crimes


Ivory Coast’s former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, went on trial on Tuesday, accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes for her alleged role in a 2011 civil war.

The court case at home came after the government rejected her extradition to international court in The Hague.

Her husband, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, is already before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges linked to the brief conflict, which was sparked by his refusal to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a run-off election in late 2010.

Around 3,000 people died in the violence.

Flanked by policemen, Simone Gbagbo, a key figure in her husband’s regime, greeted several dozen cheering supporters gathered at the entrance of the court in the commercial capital Abidjan with waves and smiles.

The prosecution alleges she was part of an inner circle of her husband’s key backers that planned violence against Ouattara’s supporters as a means of maintaining Gbagbo in power.

The trial opens just a day after Chad’s president Hissene Habre was convicted by a special tribunal in Senegal for ordering the killing and torture of thousands of political opponents during his eight-year rule.

The success of that trial is likely to bolster African leaders, who have grown increasingly hostile towards the ICC and have called for the continent to take justice into its own hands.

Having emerged as the victor of both the polls and the war, Ouattara, now president, has refused to honour an ICC warrant for Simone, claiming that the Ivorian justice system is now capable of judging her.

In an earlier trial, she was convicted in March 2015 of offences against the state and given 20 years in prison, a sentence that was upheld on appeal this month.

However, despite the conviction, rights campaigners and observers criticised the trial for failing to provide evidence linking her and other political leaders to violence by their supporters.

Human rights groups including the International Federation for Human Rights, which was representing victims in the domestic case against Simone Gbagbo, announced this week that it was withdrawing its participation in the war crimes trial.

They claimed the prosecution’s investigation had been rushed in order to respond to the ICC warrant and the trial would not give victims a full picture of the Gbagbo administration’s orchestration of the post-election violence.