By Sandra Beagan
Ivory Coast’s former First Lady Simone Gbagbo has been cleared of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the country’s highest criminal court. Judge Kouadio Bouatchi said that the jury’s vote on March 28 was unanimous.
Prosecutor Aly Yeo urged the jury to find Gbago “guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentence her to life imprisonment,” over her alleged participation on a committee that orchestrated attacks against people who supported her husband’s opponent in the 2010 election – abuses that led to the deaths of thousands.
The 67-year-old “Iron Lady”, wife of former President Laurent Gbago, was not in court when the verdict was reached. She is still on the hook for 20 years in prison after being found guilty in 2015 of offences against the state.
According to Yeo, “After her spouse came to power, she started to impose herself as the real head of Ivory Coast, the army, the police and gendarmerie.”
Former President Laurent Gbagbo was handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2011 to face trial on charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape, and persecution.
The ICC also issued a warrant for Mrs. Gbagbo but Ivorian authorities insisted that she would receive a fair trial at home and refused to hand her over.
After Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara in 2011, the country descended into a civil war in which about 3,000 people were killed.
After Mrs. Gbagbo’s not guilty verdict, Soungaola Coulibaly, lawyer for the victims, told Reuters, “We regret this decision when we think of the many victims.” Coulibaly added “If Simone Gbagbo is declared not guilty of these acts then who was? . . . The victims do not understand this decision.”
Human Rights Watch was also critical saying that the verdict left “unanswered serious questions about her alleged role in brutal crimes.” Param-Preet Singh, associate director in Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, stated that the acquittal “reflects the many irregularities in the process against her,” and added, “The poor quality of the investigation and weak evidence presented in her trial underscore the importance of the ICC’s outstanding case against her for similar crimes.”