Ivorian militia leader is 'like Martin Luther King' ICC told

Ivorian militia leader is 'like Martin Luther King' ICC told©ICC/CPI
Charles Blé Goudé
1 min 33Approximate reading time

Former Ivorian youth militia leader Charles Ble Goude was a "man of peace," in the same mould as US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and tried to stop post-polls turmoil in 2010, his lawyer said Tuesday.

"Charles Ble Goude never ordered the violence," lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) where his client and the Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo are on trial for crimes against humanity.

Ble Goude was "even considered to be too pacifist, like Martin Luther King," said Knoops, referring to the 1960s American civil rights icon.

Gbagbo and Ble Goude -- a former youth militia leader known for his fiery rhetoric -- have denied four counts including murder, rape and persecution after some 3,000 people were killed in five months of bloodshed in the west African nation from late 2010 until April 2011.

Their landmark trial opened on Thursday at the court based in The Hague and is set to last three to four years.

Gbagbo declared himself the winner of the November 2010 elections, but major powers including France, the former colonial power, the United States and the United Nations backed his bitter rival Alassane Ouattara, who had snatched a narrow victory.

The row triggered a bitter standoff that saw Gbagbo holed up in the fortified presidential palace and Abidjan -- the country's main city and commercial capital -- turned into a war zone.

Prosecutors accuse Ble Goude, 44 -- dubbed Gbagbo's "General of the Streets" because of his powerful rhetoric -- of ordering his "Young Patriots" militia to murder, rape and burn alive hundreds of people during the crisis.

But Knoops said the exact opposite was true.

"Mr Ble Goude tried to calm down the population... he did not endorse the violence," he told the court.

Lawyers played a video showing Ble Goude accompanied by well-known American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who was close to King, to boost their contention that he was a man of peace.

Knoops told a three-judge bench that there was "a major difference between a person who uses his rhetoric abilities to call for liberation... and a person who uses his rhetoric abilities to get control," as prosecutors have suggested.

"He was no General of the Streets," Knoops said.

After Gbagbo's fall, Ble Goude was arrested in January 2013 in Ghana having been on the run for more than 18 months and was transferred to the ICC in 2014.

He was expected to address the world's only permanent war crimes court later Tuesday.