Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, appeared today for the first time in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity. Gbagbo was forced from power this year following the civil war between his troops and those loyal to Alassane Ouattara, now Ivory Coast's president.
The charges Gbagbo faces stem from the brutal violence Ivorian civilians suffered as his troops battled Ouattara's for control of the small west African country. Warfare blossomed after Ouattara won Ivory Coast's 2010 presidential election, and the results were accepted internationally. But Gbagbo rejected the outcome, citing the Ivorian constitutional council, which declared the voting fraudulent.
Four months later, both sides had taken up arms, civilians were running for the borders and France dispatched troops to Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, to support thousands of UN peacekeepers already there. French troops rescued the Japanese ambassador, who says Gbagbo's troops attacked his residence.
More than one million Ivorians fled their homes and Reuters says at least 3,000 people were killed in the fighting. The most shocking attack came when troops loyal to Gbagbo attacked a march in Abidjan held by women protesting the fighting. Eight women were shot to death. Gbagbo allegedly ordered his troops to attack neighborhoods loyal to Ouattara, and endangered thousands of people by cutting water and electricity to parts of the country which supported his rival.
Ouattara's forces are alleged to have committed horrific abuses against civilians as well, according to the Guardian, including murders and rapes. Prosecutors say they will investigate these charges too.
Gbagbo arrived in the Netherlands last week, according to the AP, and said today he was deceived by the officials in charge of his transfer to Europe: he said he wasn't told he was going to the Hague. It's a contrast to his remarks eight months ago when he and supporters barricaded themselves in the Presidential house; then, Gbagbo told a French reporter, "I won the election and I am not negotiating my departure."
Today he was read his rights by the court, but he chose not to hear the charges lodged against him. As VOA reports, prosecutors allege the former Ivorian leader incited gangs that could number thousands of people in order to attack civilians suspected of opposing him. Gbagbo's next hearing has been set for June 18.