Arusha, February 20, 2013 (FH) – As confirmation of charges hearings began for Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo before the International Criminal Court, human rights groups reminded ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that Gbagbo is not the only suspect in crimes committed in his country.

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The former head of state is suspected of acting with others including his wife Simone to foment violence after December 2010elections, to keep himself in power at any cost. During the confirmation of charges hearings that started Tuesday, the prosecution will try to persuade the judges that there is enough evidence to order a trial. 

The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and its partners in Côte d’Ivoire welcomed the start of hearings and called for the proceedings to be impartial and fair.

“It is also a timely opportunity to recall the demands of justice of all Ivorian victims and the need to prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility, regardless of their allegiance,” they said in a statement.

The FIDH notes that up to now there have been no arrest warrants for supporters of the current president Alassane Ouattara, despite the fact that they are also suspected of committing crimes during the conflict that pitted them against Gbagbo. Only the arrest warrants against Gbagbo and his wife Simone have been made public.

Leading the prosecution team herself, Bensouda on Tuesday went straight on the offensive. “Mr. Gbagbo is responsible for the killings of at least 166 persons, the rapes of at least 34 women and girls,” she told the Court. “In the span of only 3 days, the country was transformed from an exercise in democracy, with more than 80% of the registered voters casting their ballot, to a situation of division and hatred during which hundreds of civilians became victims of mass violence.”

Gbagbo, present in court despite health problems, remained impassive. Nearly 400 of his supporters who had come from Côte d’Ivoire and Europe protested at the entrance to the Court building, and called for Gbagbo to be set free.