Human rights activists have condemned the acquittal of Ivory Coast’s former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who was charged with war crimes for her role during the 2010-11 post-election conflict that left more than 3 000 dead, Deutsche Welle (DW) reports.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called the trial ‘flawed’, while many international observers have described the verdict as ‘inconclusive’.
Citing ‘many irregularities’ in the proceedings, Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the verdict “leaves unanswered serious questions about her alleged role in brutal crimes committed during the 2011 post-election crisis.”
Prosecutors claimed she played a key role in the post-election conflict. After her husband, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept defeat in the 2010 election, the first lady allegedly organised attacks on supporters of current president Alassane Ouattara.
Her acquittal for the more serious charge of crimes against humanity – which could have brought a life sentence – has also angered representatives of victims.
“Ivory Coast has just shown that it has neither the capacity nor the desire to restore dignity to the victims,” Issiaka Diaby, president of the association for victims of the crisis, said.
Many observers, who are said to have been devastated by the verdict, have claimed that the lack of evidence brought against Gbagbo was partly due to a refusal to allow victims to testify against her.
However, some quarters see it otherwise.
There was more at stake in the trial than the Gbagbos’ legacy. The former president and first lady continue to have strong support in the West African country, and political tensions have surrounded their prosecution under current President Ouattara.
State prosecutor Aly Yeo, who had pushed for a life sentence, speculated the not-guilty verdict was also intended to be a message. “Perhaps [the jury] also wanted to send a strong signal of political reconciliation,” Yeo said.
Often called Ivory Coast’s “Iron Lady”, Simone Gbagbo served as the vice president of her husband’s political party, the Ivorian Popular Front.
While the former president was extradited to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands to stand trial for war crimes, the former first lady was not.
The ICC indicted her in 2012, but Ivorian authorities refused to hand her over, arguing that she would receive a fair trial in her own country.
Simone was found guilty in 2015 of “endangering state security” for which she is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Photo: Simone Gbagbo (left) waves her supporters after being acquitted of all charges by a judge in Ivory Coast. Credit: DW