At the International Criminal Court’s first ever hearing of a former head of state, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo today complained to The Hague court that the conditions of his arrest were wrong.
Dressed smartly in a black suit, Gbagbo stood and addressed the packed courtroom for 15 minutes. This is the first time the world has seen the divisive former president since his 11 April 2011 arrest by the victorious forces of his rival, Alassane Outtara.
Gbagbo faces four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, in the wake of Ivory Coast's disputed presidential elections a year ago. Some 3,000 were killed in violence that followed Mr Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in the November 2010 polls. He has denied responsibility for the violence.
He told the court that conditions in ICC detention centre are fine, adding “If I had been asked, I would have bought a ticket and got on a plane to The Hague myself.”
“I was arrested under French shelling, about 50 French tanks surrounded my residence, and helicopters dropped bombs… I saw my minister of the interior killed in front of me. I saw my son arrested and beaten.” In an apparent admission that he was still in control of Ivory Coast’s regular armed forces at the time, Gbagbo then said, “We were handed over to the forces of Outtara – who were not the regular forces of the country, because the regular forces were with me.”
He went on to describe the conditions of his imprisonment, saying he couldn’t see the sun from his cell and that he wasn’t permitted to take a walk, but insisted he was not asking for the court’s pity.
Hide and seek
He complained that a snap hearing had been arranged last week at which he was handed an arrest warrant. “Then they told me I was being taken to Abidjan… they didn’t even have the courage to tell me I was being taken to The Hague. I’m telling you this so that this won’t happen again. It’s a good thing not to play hide and seek.”
The court’s public gallery was packed with Gbagbo supporters who made their presence noisily felt by loudly singing the Ivory Coast national anthem as the hearing drew to a close. Security guards, who usually keep a tight grip on any noise in the gallery, were powerless to stop the outpouring of support.
Gbagbo is expected to appear again on June 18, 2012 when the court will deliberate the evidence and the charges against him.
For more on this story see: Gbagbo: caught in his own trap