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Trial of Ivory Coast's 'Iron Lady'

AFP/ Reuters (so)December 26, 2014

The trial against Simone Gbagbo, wife of Ivory Coast’s ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, opened on Friday in the capital Abidjan. She is accused of aiding her husband to maintain his grip on power after elections in 2010.

Simone Gbagbo
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Blackwell

It was the first hearing for Ivory Coast's former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, as she stood before an Abidjan court that accused her of attempting to undermine national security during the four-month-long civil war in 2010 and 2011. The state had descended into chaos after former president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept the electoral victory of current President Alassane Ouattara. An estimated 3,000 people were killed in the months that followed.

While her husband Laurent Gbagbo is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Simone Gbagbo is on trial with 82 former Gbagbo supporters in Abidjan. State prosecutor Simeon Yabo Odi read out the charges: "undermining national defense, setting up armed groups, taking part in an insurrection movement, disturbing the public order", as well as tribalism and xenophobia. Mrs Gbagbo took a front seat before the judge, next to former prime minister and party chief, Pascal Affi N'Guessan. The trial was officially opened and then suspended until Monday (29.12.2014) for further hearings.

Simone Gbagbo was known as the Ivorian "Iron Lady" behind her husband. In the 1970s, the today 65-year-old was imprisoned several times for her trade union activities during the struggle for multiparty democracy. Later on, she became an active politician and held various seats in parliament and the national assembly, as well as being the vice president of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party. Both ICC and Ivorian authorities believe her to be a co-perpetrator in alleged crimes against humanity.

Laurent and Simone Gbagbo were arrested on April 11, 2011 after French forces helped Ouattara supporters to take over their residence. Laurent Gbagbo is currently being held at the ICC on charges including rape, murder and persecution of political opponents before his fall from power. Simone Gbagbo had been held under house arrest in the northwest of the country since April 2011. She was transferred to the capital, Abidjan to attend her hearing. She is currently being held at a military school.

Laurent Gbagbo with his wife Simone
Simone Gbagbo, also known as the "Iron Lady" was seen as President Gbagbo's alter-ego.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/N. Bothma

The Hague or Abijdan?

The high profile trial is a test for Ivory Coast, which was hoping to prove its judicial capacities to the world, Pierre Adjoumani of the Ivorian Human Rights League, told news agencies. The International Criminal Court has repeatedly called on the Ivorian government to hand Simone Gbagbo over, to face trial in The Hague. "The procedure examined by the ICC in no way stops the national authorities from starting procedures," ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah said this week. The ICC is not allowed to try cases if domestic authorities are already taking action, but can step in if Ivory Coast cannot bring the perpetrators to justice.

Although international human rights groups initially welcomed the trial of Mr Gbagbo and his supporters, many have called the trial unbalanced. DW spoke to Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner from Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier this year. "The ICC is only prosecuting Gbagbo's side," she argued. No charges have been brought against Ouattara's militia, which according to Mattioli-Zeltner, sets a bad example for international justice.