A key “confirmation of charges” hearing in the case against Ivorian youth leader Charles Blé Goudé took place at the ICC in The Hague last week. Pre-trial judges must now decide whether to send the case to trial.
Over four days, judges heard arguments on the charges facing Blé Goudé, who had been a minister in the government of former Côte d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo.
The purpose of the hearing was not to determine the guilt or innocence of Blé Goudé, but to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to move to trial.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda alleges that Blé Goudé is responsible for four counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts that followed disputed elections in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010-11.
Whether the charges will be confirmed depends upon a number of issues that were explored during the hearings.
One of these is to determine whether Blé Goudé was involved in creating and executing a “common plan” to hold on to power by encouraging attacks on supporters of Gbagbo’s rival during the 2010-11 elections, current president Allasane Ouattara.
Gbagbo is set to face trial at the Court next year, with similar charges against him having been confirmed in June this year.
The prosecution continued to argue that Blé Goudé had been part of Gbagbo’s inner circle, noting that Blé Goudé had described their relationship as that of a father and son.
The defense however insisted there was no significant link between the two men.
Crucial to the prosecution establishing this relationship was a logbook from Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential palace, which the defense initially used to show that Blé Goudé had not been present at top-level meetings.
Also contended is Blé Goudé’s leadership of pro-Gbagbo youths allegedly responsible for violence against Ouattara supporters.
Prosecutors claimed that Blé Goudé was commonly referred to as the “general of the street” and had facilitated the training and recruitment of these youths, with his orders being respected and followed.
The defense countered that there was no evidence to suggest this, noting that the prosecution’s interchangeable use of the terms “pro-Gbagbo youth,” “Young Patriots” and ‘Galaxy Patriotique’ displayed a lack of understanding of the Côte d’Ivoire’s various youth movements and leadership.
The prosecution also sought to demonstrate that Blé Goudé both knew and intended that the youth under his control would commit crimes, two conditions for Blé Goudé’s liability as indirect co-perpetrator to be established.
The defense, however, claimed that his rallies and speeches had not intended to provoke violence.
On the final day of the hearing Blé Goudé took the floor and denied the charges, saying that he was a believer in non-violence and worked for peace in the country.
The prosecution will now submit final written submission by 10 October and the defense by 17 October. The judges will then have 60 days to come to a decision. They can either:
- Confirm the charges and send the case to trial;
- Decline to confirm the charges and adjourn the proceedings; or
- Neither confirm or decline the charges yet but request the prosecutor to provide further evidence or conduct further investigations.
Both defense and prosecution can request authorization from Pre-Trial Chamber I to appeal the decision on the confirmation of charges.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the confirmation of charges hearing, the defense submitted a challenge to the admissibility of the case before the Court. A decision is pending.
Blé Goudé is in the Court’s custody since 22 March 2014 when he was surrendered to the Court by the national authorities of Côte d´Ivoire. Pre-Trial Chamber I granted 469 persons the status of victims authorized to participate in the proceedings.
Civil society reactions
“Charles Blé Goudé’s arrest, surrender and appearance at the ICC sends a strong message to Ivorian and African youth to turn their back on violence and crimes, and give hope to victims who are still suffering,” said Ali Ouattara, president of the Côte d’Ivoire Coalition for the ICC.
The International Federation for Human Rights, along with Ivorian rights groups LIDHO and MIDH attended the hearing and called it a step towards truth. Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice noted the importance of the inclusion of a rape charge against Blé Goudé.
HRW’s Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner told Deutche-Welle that the ICC is setting a bad example for the Ivorian justice system by so far only bringing charges against Laurent Gbagbo and his allies.
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