The former president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, will become the first ex-head of state to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), on Thursday.
Mr. Gbagbo’s trial begins five years after his arrest for crimes against humanity, which were committed after he lost the Ivorian Presidential elections in 2010 to Alassane Ouattara. The trial was delayed due to the former president’s claims of ill health.
Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to step aside after the 2010 elections triggered a bloody five-month-long standoff between the supporters of the two presidential candidates. The violence left at least 3,000 Ivorians dead.
Eventually, the crisis ended with Mr. Gbagbo’s arrest at his presidential palace by President Ouattara’s soldiers, who were assisted by United Nations Peacekeepers and French troops.
The former president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for her role in the crisis by a court in Abidjan, the nation’s commercial capital.
Mr. Gbagbo will be joined on the dock by his former ally Charles Ble Goude.
Prosecutors at the ICC allege that the two men organized the police, army, and youths into a militia nicknamed the “Young Patriots”. This group was responsible for scores of deaths, torture, and rape.
However, the counsel for both Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Goude argue that the militia was not organized by either of the men and that the prosecution’s charges are little more than “victor’s justice” on the part of President Ouattara.
The lawyers for both parties informed Agence France-Presse that their clients would plead “not guilty”.
Pro-Gbagbo protesters plan to march on the ICC’s headquarters in the Hague. Many observers believe the trial will last at least 3 years. The prosecution plans to present 5,300 pieces of evidence as well as the testimony of 138 witnesses.
The hearing will begin Thursday morning at 8:30 A.M. GMT.