Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands on Monday, making him the first ever former head-of-state to do so.
Gbagbo has been charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and persecution, stemming from his attempt to cling to power following the 2010 presidential elections. Gbagbo lost the vote but refused to hand over power to the victor, Alassane Ouattara, sparking a three-month conflict that restarted a deadly civil war.
More than 3,000 people died in the violence following the elections and more than one million were displaced.
Gbagbo arrived at The Hague on Sunday. He has been held under house arrest since April 2011 and was transferred to the ICC in secret to prevent supporters from reacting before the extradition.
At the opening of the trial, Gbagbo detailed his capture, which he said was done under French bombs.
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“About 50 French tanks had surrounded the residence, while helicopters were firing bombs. Under these circumstances I was arrested,” Gbagbo said Monday.
“I saw my interior minister killed in front of me, my son, who is still under arrest, was beaten,” he told the court in French.
Supporters, who drove to the trial from France, amassed outside the court to protest the hearings, which they considered a political farce. They also noted that Gbagbo's rival, Ouattara, also committed his share of atrocities. including murder and rape.
It's a neo-colonialist trial, Gbagbo adviser Toussaint Alain told reporters. The [ICC] has become an instrument of France … to empower friends and punish the ones who don't follow along.
The presence of president Laurent Gbagbo in the dock is clearly a judicial error, a swindle, a move to liquidate him politically, socially and physically.
The opening hearing lasted about 20 minutes and the next hearing will be held on June 18, when the international prosecutors will decide if they have enough evidence to try the former president on the charges.