The stakes were high for the prosecution, which must convince the judges it has a strong enough case to send him to trial.
Blé Goudé, who was Youth Minister under ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, is suspected of crimes against humanity committed during violence that followed November 2010 presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire. According to the UN, that crisis in the country left more than 3,000 people dead. Summing up, prosecutor Eric McDonald said Blé Goudé was not Martin Luther King as his lawyers claimed, but had “mobilized and manipulated” a whole generation of youth in his country. This provoked protests from supporters of Blé Goudé who were present in the public gallery. The prosecutor claimed that the suspect had given quasi-military orders to a youth army, and asked the judges to commit him to trial.
As his lawyers Nick Kaufman and Claver Ndri were wrapping up their arguments and he was preparing to take the stand, the Ivorian ex-minister told his prayer beads. Blé Goudé pleaded his cause at length with a confident charisma that the prosecutor said had allowed him to mobilize the youth for purposes of a criminal plan to keep Gbagbo in power. Turning to the judges, Blé Goudé said he had confidence in their justice. But he also reproached them, as well as the prosecutor, for not mastering the Ivorian situation properly and reminded them of accusations that the ICC is going after African leaders who are not docile enough. “You are going to convict me, but one day I will be acquitted by history,” he finally told them.
“I have never possessed weapons,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at the prosecution. “I have never distributed weapons. I am afraid of war and I am not ashamed to say so.” Claiming to be “the man behind the idea of resisting with bare hands”, Blé Goudé brought sighs of admiration from his supporters, who drank in his words. Finally, he seemed to be speaking to the current Ivorian government and supporters of President Alassane Ouattara, those who he said had sent him to The Hague to remove him from the political scene. “Why are they doing that?” he asked. “They are afraid of political competition!” Laughter from the public. Parodying the prosecutor’s words, he said Ouattara’s supporters “already had a common plan: they wanted power at any price”. In conclusion, he sent a final message to his adversaries: “Prison is hard, but it doesn’t last for ever. I am convinced that one day, there will be light again and I will return home.”
At the start of hearings on Monday September 29, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda took the stand before the judges for the first time to present the prosecution’s case against “all those who commit crimes, on whichever side they are”. She has often been criticized for sparing the “victors” of the 2010 crisis.
The judges are now deliberating, and are scheduled to hand down their decision by January 15. If they decide to confirm the charges against Blé Goudé, the prosecution may then ask to have his case joined to that of Laurent Gbagbo, so that the two men be tried together. SM/ER/JC