Mr President, Your Honours,
Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with crimes against humanity - murder, rape, serious injury and persecution committed in Abidjan following the presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire in 2010.
Let me be clear from the outset: this trial is not about who won the 2010 elections. Nor is it about who should have won those elections. It is about the individual criminal responsibility of the two Accused for crimes committed in the 2010 post-election violence which fall under the jurisdiction of this Court.
It is about their responsibility for crimes committed by the armed forces of Côte d'Ivoire, and by youth groups, militia and mercenaries – in furtherance of a plan to keep Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means.
Due, largely to the instability created by the First Ivorian Civil War (2002 and 2007), the 2010 elections were the first to take place in the ten years since Gbagbo came to power. They were expected to mark a moment of unity for the country; they did not. Instead, for over approximately five months - from 27 November 2010 to 12 April 2011 - Côte d'Ivoire was plunged into chaos and unspeakable violence, fuelled by divisive rhetoric which claimed that only Ivoirians who supported Mr. Laurent Gbagbo were true patriots. All others were designated as enemies of the Republic.
Laurent Gbagbo never intended to give up power. He prepared for the possibility of electoral defeat by laying the foundations for violence. And when it became apparent to him that the presidency was lost – he, together with his inner circle, unleashed an orchestrated attack targeting civilians who were identified as opposed to him: First, civilians who supported Gbagbo's political opponent, Mr Alassane Ouattara, and second, all those who were considered to be Ouattara's supporters by virtue of their ethnicity, their religion, or their nationality – or all three. Ethnic groups such as the Dioula, Muslims generally, and Ivorians of West African descent or citizens of West African States such as Mali and Burkina Faso; all of these groups were identified as Ouattara supporters.
Members of these ethnic, national and religious groups were targeted at political demonstrations, at roadblocks, and in the most crowded communes of Abidjan such as Abobo; their homes and market places shelled, and their religious buildings callously attacked.
Mr President, Your Honours,
Based on the evidence collected, the Prosecution is here to prosecute two men: Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Côte d'Ivoire, and Charles Blé Goudé, Gbagbo's long-standing ally and leader of the pro-Gbagbo youth, appointed by Gbagbo as Minister for Youth, Vocational Training and Employment after the elections.
We are here to send a strong and unwavering message to those who conspire to rise to power, or to remain in power through the use of force and brutality, that they are and will remain accountable for their actions in accordance with the Rome Statute.
We are here to send a strong and unwavering message to those who conspire to rise to power, or to remain in power through the use of force and brutality, that they are and will remain accountable for their actions.
We are here to remind the world that crimes such as those at the centre of this case – murder, rape, inhumane acts, persecution;crimes against humanity – threaten the peace, security and well-being of not only the affected communities but also all of humanity. Whoever perpetrates mass violence does so against the world-entire.
Let me re-emphasise that this trial is not driven by political considerations: Our mandate is strictly a legal one under the Rome Statute. Led by the evidence our independent investigations have collected, our purpose is to prosecute crimes committed during a period of post-election violence which took and destroyed the lives of so many men, women and children in Côte d'Ivoire.
Many Ivorians will follow this trial closely. Some will wonder why the Prosecution has charged these two men, and not others –yet.
The Prosecution is firmly committed to ensuring that those most responsible for the violence unleashed on civilians in Côte d'Ivoire - in connection with the 2010 election - are brought to justice.
3,000 civilians were reportedly killed during the post-election violence in the country – by armed forces on both sides.
Our investigations in the country are ongoing. But they do take time. I encourage the people of Côte d'Ivoire to be patient, and I urge the national authorities to continue to cooperate with my Office in its activities.
My Office will seek to ensure justice and accountability on all sides. This should be clear; my Office is investigating both sides of the conflict. That is what the Office's legal mandate requires, that is what the victims deserve, and that is what the Prosecution is most committed to and is working to achieve.
As my learned colleague, Mr Eric MacDonald, the Senior Trial Lawyer of the case will elaborate in his part of the Opening Statement, the Prosecution will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé each bear individual criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity committed against civilians in Abidjan between 27 November 2010 and 12 April 2011.
The Prosecution will prove that Laurent Gbagbo, Charles Blé Goudé, and other members of Mr Gbagbo's inner circle, conceived and implemented a common plan to keep Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means. These means included the use of armed force and violence. By 27 November 2010 – at the latest – these means also included a policy to launch a widespread and systematic attack against civilians who were perceived to be supporters of Mr Alassane Ouattara.
As will be explained, this policy led to the commission of the crimes with which both Accused are charged under the Rome Statute.
Your Honours, let me begin with the Accused, Mr Laurent Gbagbo.
From the moment Mr Gbagbo took power after the presidential elections in 2000, he intended to stay in power by all means– including resorting to violence, as the events surrounding the 2010 presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire would come to demonstrate.
He relied on discriminatory laws to prevent his political opponents from standing in elections; signed peace treaties but obstructed their implementation; used the Ivorian armed forces and loyal militia, youth groups and mercenaries to crush dissent through violent means; and never held these groups or any individual accountable for violent, persecutory crimes perpetrated against civilians.
In the months prior to the elections in October 2010, Mr Gbagbo took steps to prepare for the possibility of political defeat; to ensure that there were structures in place and at his disposal to allow recourse to violence, if necessary. Nothing would be allowed to defeat Mr Gbagbo – if politics failed, violence was seen as politics by other means.
In claiming himself President of Côte d'Ivoire, Gbagbo used the Ivorian Defence and Security Forces – the "FDS" to attack civilians. He used mercenaries – to attack civilians. He used youth groups and militia – galvanised by the co-accused, Mr Blé Goudé's hateful rhetoric – to attack civilians.
Laurent Gbagbo had controlled the FDS for 10 years as President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He continued to control the FDS in this claimed capacity following the 2010 elections.
We will demonstrate that Mr Gbagbo exerted his control through the formal chain of command, and through a parallel structure of military units led by loyalist commanders.
Mr Gbagbo also controlled the pro-Gbagbo youth, militia and mercenaries. These were either integrated into or collaborated with loyalist FDS units in the parallel structure. Again, Mr Gbagbo exercised control through both the formal and parallel chains of command and through his relationship with Blé Goudé and other members of his Inner Circle.
Let me turn now to Mr Charles Blé Goudé.
Mr Blé Goudé was Gbagbo's mouthpiece, his "spin doctor"- he took pride in his ability to spin Gbagbo's message, to mobilise the masses, and to issue "mots d'ordres" or instructions. Mr Blé Goudé organised and led the pro-Gbagbo youth, known as the "Young Patriots" or "Jeunes Patriotes." He was the self-proclaimed General of the Street - Général de la rue.
Charles Blé Goudé was the link between Laurent Gbagbo and the Jeunes Patriotes. He manipulated the youth with hateful rhetoric, identifying Ouattara supporters as the enemy and legitimate targets for attack; claiming a version of patriotism that was a cover for persecution. He spread the belief that Laurent Gbagbo supporters were THE true patriots, THE real Ivorians. Everyone else was an enemy of the Republic - a message that was repeated over and over through both the state-controlled and other pro-Gbagbo media.
Charles Blé Goudé shared the intent to maintain Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means. He controlled the youth and directed their actions through his speeches and specific instructions. When he called upon them, the youth acted – their response to his calls was immediate; and they complied with his instructions without hesitation.
Allow me to provide you with an example:
You will hear evidence that on 25 February, Mr Blé Goudé instructed the pro-Gbagbo youth to "check comings and goings in their neighbourhoods and denounce any stranger or foreigner entering." Following his order, youths and militia set up roadblocks in the ethnically diverse commune of Yopougon, to control the passage of supposed "foreigners" - ethnic Dioula, West African nationals, or Ivorians of West African descent. And that day in Yopougon - and in the following days and weeks - the areas where ethnic Dioula lived came under violent attack. Men and women were killed as a result – some were burned alive at roadblocks; others were severely wounded.
For their actions, both Accused are jointly charged with crimes committed during four incidents which led to the killing of at least 142 persons, the rapes of at least 24 women and girls, the infliction of serious bodily injury and suffering to at least 119 persons. They are also charged with the crime of persecution.
Charles Blé Goudé is additionally charged with crimes committed during the incident I just briefly described – the crimes that occurred between 25 and 28 February, which led to the killing of at least 22 persons, the infliction of serious bodily injury and suffering of at least seven persons, and the commission of the crime of persecution.
In 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber authorised my Office to commence an investigation of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court committed in Côte d'Ivoire during the post-election violence of 2010/2011.
Since then, we have obtained a vast body of evidence against these two Accused - met with numerous individuals, interviewed many witnesses, collected thousands of documents, and consulted many experts.
The Prosecution's List of Witnesses currently includes 138 witnesses. You will hear from victims and witnesses of the horrific crimes which are at the focus of this case. You will also hear from researchers and film-makers, to insider witnesses close to the Accused including politicians; members of the FDS and the pro-Gbagbo youth,; militia, and mercenary groups.
You will hear the evidence of investigators and other staff from my Office: they will describe the crime scenes - which they examined and photographed; and the locations in Abidjan where they collected FDS and government documents. We will rely upon a significant body of documentary evidence: FDS and government documents, video footage seized from Radio Télévision Ivoirienne - the State-owned television station, video footage of crime scenes taken by witnesses who were present, visitor logbooks found in Mr Gbagbo's Presidential Palace; and many, diverse items of evidence.
We intend to call experts to testify on a range of issues: ballistics, digital forensics, DNA analysis, forensic pathology.
Allow me to briefly share the harrowing story of one of the witnesses whom the Prosecution will call – she was a victim of rape. We call her P-0350 in these proceedings, to protect her identity.
P-0350 will testify about how on 16 December 2010, she was marching towards the headquarters of the RTI. She was supporting the Rassemblement des Républicains or RDR – Ouattara's political party. Because of her political affiliation, she was arrested by theGendarmerie. She was then detained at the Prefecture of the Police, with other civilians. She was held separately with other women for three days. During those dark three days, she was raped – gang raped – at the Prefecture of the Police, by armed gendarmes – whose very job it was to protect civilians from violence. The other women detained with her were also repeatedly gang raped.
P-0350 was subjected to these heinous crimes because she merely joined a march in support of Mr Ouattara.
This Court must give hope to the victims of such unspeakable crimes that justice will be had, and that justice will prevail.
You will hear evidence that on 24 February 2011, Mr Laurent Gbagbo ordered his army not to lose Abobo. Your Honours, Abobo is a densely populated neighbourhood of Abidjan. The majority of its inhabitants come from the Northern parts of Côte d'Ivoire. Following this order, Abobo became the theatre of persecutory violence perpetrated by pro-Gbagbo forces.
On 3 March 2011, over 3,000 women gathered in Abobo to demand Mr Gbagbo's resignation and to protest against human rights violations in their neighbourhood. They carried only tree branches and banners. They were unarmed. They were peaceful.
Then an FDS convoy driving from an FDS camp based in Abobo opened fire at these unarmed demonstrators. Seven women were murdered in cold-blood, several others were injured; their shattered, bloodied bodies lay behind on the road.
You will hear how Mr Gbagbo's government and the FDS responded to this incident at the time – denying on the state-controlled television any responsibility for the killings. You will hear how the pro-Gbagbo media claimed the incident was staged; how Gbagbo's Council of Ministers claimed that allegations against the FDS were fabricated, how Charles Blé Goudé said on 23 March 2011 that the FDS couldn't be responsible for this incident because Abobo was in rebel hands at the time.
In the face of undeniable evidence that these women were killed by shots fired from an FDS vehicle, these repeated denials of FDS responsibility are betraying the truth. And that truth is that Mr Gbagbo and his inner circle intended to cover-up these crimes; that these crimes were in fact perpetrated in furtherance of their Common Plan.
The Prosecution will prove that these denials were a coordinated fabrication. We will show – from amongst the body of evidence in this case - high-definition video footage of the demonstration.
The footage is distressing because it captures the violent truth of what happened on 3 March 2011.
You will see this footage and hear from an expert who will testify to its authenticity. He will confirm that the video is not amontage. You will see how smoke emerges from the canon of an FDS armoured vehicle, as it shoots at the peaceful women demonstrators.
The Prosecution will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that seven women were murdered on 3 March 2011, by the FDS. We will prove who these victims were through the evidence of their relatives and friends, and through DNA analysis. These women had names; they were mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. These women who so violently died were very real. They also became victims of the Accused's resort to violence as politics by other means.
Despite the severity of the crime, there was no official investigation into the murder of these seven women. In fact, there was no genuine investigation of any of the crimes committed by the FDS or the pro-Gbagbo youth, militia and mercenaries; only cover-ups.
While in a position to do so, Mr Gbagbo never ordered the murder, physical violence, rape and persecution of civilians carried out in his name to stop. His actions and deliberate inaction led to the commission of crimes. As Mr Gbagbo told the FDS on 27 August 2010: "If errors are made, we will handle the situation." And he did, and you will hear how during this trial.
In such efforts, he was supported by Charles Blé Goudé. Mr Blé Goudé never instructed the youth to refrain from any kind of physical violence. On the contrary; we will adduce evidence that he in fact intervened to direct their actions, to tell them they should be better organized, and to carry on their "good work."
Pro-Gbagbo forces, inter alia:
injured, killed and raped peaceful demonstrators;
shelled men, women and children in their neighbourhoods; and
murdered men and boys at roadblocks merely because of their identity and association; merely because of who they were.
These crimes were committed in furtherance of the Common Plan to keep Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means.
Mr President, Your Honours,
I will conclude by stating that this trial is about obtaining justice for the many hundreds of victims of the post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire and ensuring that there is no impunity for those responsible for such crimes, regardless of their power or position.
I reiterate that the charges that will be the focus of this trial relate only to the acts and individual criminal responsibility of Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.
These charges are not brought against the people of Côte d'Ivoire, nor against one or other segment of its population. These charges are not brought against any political, national, ethnic or religious groups within this country.
They are brought against two individuals charged under the Rome Statute based on the evidence independently amassed by the Prosecution.
This is our first case to reach trial in the Situation of Côte d'Ivoire. There will be others as our independent and impartial pursuit to hold those most responsible for the post-election violence in the country, irrespective of political affiliation or side, remains firm. We will not falter until this work is done.
Mr President, Your Honours,
I thank you for your attention. With your leave, Mr Eric MacDonald will now present a more detailed outline of the Prosecution's case and the evidence that the Prosecution will present in support of the charges against the two Accused.