Arusha, October 21, 2014 (FH) – If all goes according to plan, former Ivorian First Lady and 82 other people close to her husband are due to go on trial Wednesday before the criminal court in Abidjan. In this trial they face charges of undermining state security, attacking or plotting against the authority of the state, forming armed groups and directing or participating in an insurrectional movement that endangered public order.

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But some of them, including Simone Gbagbo, are also accused of even more serious crimes. These cases concern alleged international crimes (genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity) and are still under investigation by the Special Investigation and Prosecution Unit (CSEI).

Some of the accused are therefore likely to face a second trial. For the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) this first trial, even if it does not go to the heart of 2010-2011 crisis, will serve as a test for the Ivorian justice system.

“We are going to observe and monitor the whole of this trial, because it is a big challenge for the Ivorian judicial system,” declared FIDH Vice-President Drissa Traoré. “It is the first time that a criminal court will try such a large number of people in the same case. It is crucial that it meets this challenge through a fair trial that respects the rights of the defence, otherwise it will discredit the procedures still under investigation relating notably to other crimes.”

“Political or electoral considerations must not enter into the trial,” said Pierre Adjoumani, president of the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO), which is a member of FIDH. “In the last few months, we have criticized the way some of the accused have been granted conditional release following decisions by the executive authorities. To be a success, this trial must respect only the law and the procedures, and not political considerations that have no place in a court of law.”

However one of the accused, Pascal Affi N'Guessan who heads the FPI opposition party of former President Laurent Gbagbo, claims the case is already being manipulated for political ends. “In fact, this is a way to remove political adversaries through legal manoeuvres, as we see from the fact that those on trial include three top members of the FPI, the president of the URD and the president of the PPCI, two parties allied with the FPI,” he said at a press conference on October 18. 

Simone Gbagbo is also under an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Up to now, Abidjan has refused to transfer her to the ICC, saying it can guarantee a free and fair trial before its national courts.