Tag Archives: International Criminal Court

Gbagbo supporters entering the ICC clash with police

As mentioned in my previous two posts, last week’s start of the International Criminal Court‘s case against the former President of Cote d’Ivoire was historic.  He is the most high-profile defendant to date, and the first head of state to face charges.  Many Ivorians and members of the Ivorian diaspora are following the case closely, and emotionally.  According to those I spoke with on Tuesday, so many people hoped to attend Gbagbo’s pre-trial that there was a sign-up list online in order to fill the 75 seats in the public viewing gallery fairly.  In the 30 minutes before the start of proceedings, police escorted in groups of half a dozen people or so, and many hopeful attendees began to complain that police were using a different list than that online.  The ICC’s front desk employees had told me earlier that morning that it was first come first serve, and that whoever lined up soonest would enter.

However, there was no semblance of any orderly line, and people began to argue with others waiting to enter, and then some hostility began to be directed at the police. One tearful woman approached an escorted group as they passed through the ICC’s street entrances, yelling at them that they were criminals and murders.  Others began pushing their way to the front of the line, claiming a friend was saving them a place.  As police tried to gently usher people away from the buildings entrance, demonstrators who had been at the pro-Gbagbo rally across the street became agitated and screamed at the police officers.

Across the street from the Court, near the rally, perhaps a hundred riot police emerged from armored vehicles, although no riot ended up taking place.  From my vantage point, the Dutch police were impressive in their professionalism.  They remained exceedingly calm and respectful, even when Gbagbo supporters were not. I did not observe any excessive violence on the part of the police, and comparably speaking, I can’t imagine police in any other country showing such restraint. I noted that perhaps 1/3 of the riot officers were female, a much higher percentage than I think would be present in the U.S. in such a situation.

Right around the time when Gbagbo’s hearing was supposed to start, I looked across the street to see a young Ivorian man getting physical with another man, and then saw him take a full swing at a police officer when the officer tried to break up the fight.  As soon as he tried to punch that officer, any hope of getting in to the hearing was over for all of us.  The doors to the Court were immediately locked, police brought out German Shepherds, and then they began to close off the sidewalk.

Here are two clips I took of the “line” to enter the Court.  The first shows the arrest of the man with the yellow bag above, and the second clip is of Gbagbo supporters getting frustrated when they were not permitted entrance. See:

Pro-Gbagbo Rally Outside of the International Criminal Court

Laurent Gbagbo, Président de la République (Cô...

Last week was historic for the International Criminal Court. It marked the pre-trial of the case against Laurent Gbagbo, the first former head of state to ever face charges in the ICC. I arrived on Tuesday simply hoping to see the inside of the building, but instead spent the afternoon watching demonstrators clash with Dutch police, and each other.

I was familiar with the Gbagbo case before I arrived and it was a simply a coincidence that my visit coincided with the first day of his pre-trial, which he did not attend. I knew that Gbagbo was installed as President of Cote d’Ivoire in 2000 and was in power during the 2002 civil war that split the country into politically contentious north and south regions. He served for a decade, based mostly on his continual stalling of his second election, and when Alassane Outtara was declared the winner of the 2010 elections Gbagbo refused to step down. He and his supporters argued that Outtara rigged the election (which is really hard to do unless the candidate is the incumbent) and Gbagbo swore himself into office again, despite that international observers called the voting more-or-less fair and that Gbagbo had already serve the equivalent of the constitutional limit of two five-year terms. Cote d’Ivoire became an even more volatile place in November 2010 when both Gbagbo and Outtara began to use violence to ensure their respective presidencies. The post-election conflict received the most media attention when a mass grave was discovered containing the bodies of known Outtara supporters.

According to the Case Information Sheet on “Situation in the Cote d’Ivoire: The Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo” provided to me at the ICC’s front desk, pro-Gbagbo forces purportedly used widespread and systematic attacks against specific ethnic or religious communities that were supporting Outtara. The ICC is alleging that murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts were committed over an extended time period and over large geographic areas (I’m using the ICC’s wording). Gbagbo is being called an indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity. Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the Rome State that founded the ICC, it accepted its jurisdiction in April 2003, which was ironically under Gbagbo’s regime. Outtara reconfirmed the country’s acceptance of this jurisdiction and at the end of last year the former President was arrested in the capital of Abidjan and transferred to The Hague. He has been fit to stand trial, and after being found indigent, the Court has borne the cost of his Defense.

Based on the violence that has occurred in Cote d’Ivoire over the last decade and the 2010 election strife, I was not totally surprised to see a rally outside the ICC on Tuesday. I became confused though when I approached the demonstration to see participants wearing t-shirts saying “Free Gbagbo” and holding banners calling Gbagbo a political prisoner. I initially assumed the 200+ demonstrators were there to see justice served against a tyrant, but on the contrary, they were loyal to Gbagbo and had come to support him.

I spent an hour or so talking with various protesters. Although a good number lived in the Netherlands, most seemed to have come from all over Western Europe, telling me they spent the night on buses from London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan to attend and would turn around and get back on the bus that same afternoon. I heard a litany of reasons for their presence there, with the most simple being that Gbagbo was a family friend or that he was born in the same community as the protester. Some said they came out because they felt he would be a better ruler than Outtara, while others felt he had been a scapegoat for an out-of-control military that acted of its own accord. Many voiced anger that Gbagbo’s inner circle have all been imprisoned under Outtara, including the former First Lady Simone Hehivet Gbagbo, his son, Michel Gbagbo, and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Many chanted about one-sided justice, in which both sides had committed violence yet only Gbagbo was arrested. I was handed a leaflet calling the 2010 election a France-backed coup, a form of neocolonialism. A different leaflet I received showed graphic photos of dead bodies from a massacre that allegedly occurred on July 20, 2012, captions stating that Ouattara used the military to burn opponents alive and that he had established concentration camps. Another Ivorian-French man at the rally gave me an information sheet that had nothing to do with the 2010 election violence at all, but rather was demanding an answer as to who was responsible for the November 2004 bombing of a French military camp in Bouaké, which killed 9 French soldiers, one American civilian, and injured 38 others. The pro-Gbagbo demonstration simply gave him an audience and platform he needed to get his message across.

Here is some footage I took of the rally in its early hours when it was at its calmest:

 

How to visit the International Criminal Court

English: International Criminal Court (ICC) logo

ICC logo

A recent day at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands was one of the most professionally interesting experiences I have had.  A Dutch friend took care of the logistics and in hindsight, I realize it was a surprisingly easy thing to do and and any foreigner could also visit. The Hague is the government seat of the Netherlands and just a 45-minute train ride from Amsterdam.  At the main station in The Hague, we rented bikes and peddled over to the Court using the maps functions on our smart phones. We found a surprisingly humble building, but later learned that the current building is an interim premises. Scheduled to open in 2015, the permanent premises designed by a Danish architectural firm will be located at Alexanderkazerne (Alexander Barracks), which will be closer to the detention center and be part of the International Zone of the Hague.

The Court’s lists their schedule on their website, http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home, and we chose to attend the hearings of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and were especially interested in that of Laurent Gbagbo.  Bemba is a Congolese former military commander on trial since 2009 for “crimes against the civilian population, in particular, rape murder and pillaging” in the Central African Republic from 2002-2003. The first former head of state to be charged in the ICC, Gbagbo was the President of Cote d’Ivoire and is accused of using murder and sexual violence to try to maintain power after he lost the 2010 election there. We were able to sit in on Bemba’s trial, but for reasons described in my post on the pro-Gbagbo demonstrations, we weren’t able to attend the latter’s pre-trial hearing.

I had expected a busy building, full of shuffling lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals, but that was so in the morning during Bemba’s hearing.  It was virtually empty except for the single guard at the security checkpoint and three employees at the front desk.  A Dutch man and Ghanaian woman greeted us after the security point. They instructed us as to the proper decorum in the public viewing gallery of the court. The rules were what anyone should expect them to be inside a courtroom, including no talking, gesturing, pointing, or use of recording devices. Visitors must also rise when the judges enter and leave the courtroom.

After depositing our bags and valuables in the lockers between the reception and the public viewing gallery, a security guard led us into the gallery.  It was so small, and more exciting for me, we could sit right in the front row just 30 feet from Bemba himself, with nothing dividing us but a wall of glass.  He is a physically huge man, and sat back in the very corner of the room wearing a seat and tie, looking extremely bored. When the two of us sat down he looked at us, probably wondering why we were there.  It happened to be a closed session, so we could watch but could not hear anything (Gbagbo’s later afternoon session was open with audio). For anyone who plans to visit, if you take a seat nearer the door to the gallery, that will put you near the prosecution, and if you walk further into the room, that puts you near the defendant.  I am not sure if that means we were symbolically supporting Bemba since we sat nearer the defense side of the room, support which we obviously had not intended to give, but the far side is certainly a more interesting vantage point to view the accused. Here is the layout of the courtroom that the front desk gave us, and we sat in the top left corner of the Public Gallery squares to see Bemba up close:

It was heartening to see that the three presiding judges were all female and from different regions of the world.  In fact, I was quite pleased with both the gender and geographic balance of the Court. The ICC’s staff of judges seems to be exactly half male and half female, and there is a good number of judges and other legal actors from the global south and smaller countries working at the ICC. (There are no American judges since G. W. “unsigned” Clinton’s signature on the Rome Treaty that founded the ICC and thus the U.S. is not a party.) The prosecution and defense teams, as well as the legal representatives for the victims, are lead by sub-Saharan Africans. The lead Prosecutor is a Gambian named Fatou Bensouda, who also worked on the Rwanda Tribunal, while Aime Kilolo-Musamba heads the Defense Council (paid for by stipends out of Bemba’s frozen accounts).

Admittedly, we observed Bemba’s trial for less than an hour because there wasn’t much to take in because of the lack of audio. For anyone else who would like to see international human right law at work, I would suggest making sure that the case is “open” with audio.  Another piece of advice is to really take advantage of the expertise of the ICC employees at the front desk.  We chatted with an extremely helpful Ghanaian woman in charge of disseminating information on the court to visitors, and she was a trove of information that just can’t be found anywhere else.

I went, I saw, I learned.