The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the wife of Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s former president, saying she played a role in helping her husband orchestrate election violence that killed 3,000 people.
Gbagbo himself is awaiting trial at the court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The warrant for Simone, the first for a woman, lists four counts of crimes against humanity. It was issued in February but only made public by the court on Thursday.
The court accuses Simone of being Gbagbo’s “alter ego” and of “crimes against humanity, of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence”.
In addition to those charges, “persecution and other inhumane acts” were committed by Simone during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, the court said.
Violence erupted in Ivory Coast, known for its cocoa-growing and once a beacon of wealth and stability in volatile West Africa, after Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara following a run-off election in November 2010.
Troops loyal to Gbagbo battled supporters of Ouattara, who won the election, in violence that lasted several months, ending in April 2011 with the capture of Gbagbo by UN and French troops. France is Ivory Coast’s former colonial master.
The court said that the violence was committed as part of a “common plan … and that Mr Gbagbo’s inner circle, to which Ms Gbagbo belonged, met frequently to discuss the implementation and coordination of the plan”.
“Although not elected, Ms Gbagbo acted as an alter ego for her husband, exercising the power to make State decisions,” the court said.
Much of the violence was perpetrated in the commercial capital Abidjan, around the country and around the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara was then besieged by forces loyal to Gbagbo.
“They targeted civilians who they believed were supporters of Alassane Ouattara, and the attacks were often directed at specific ethnic or religious communities,” the court said.
Simone, 63, on November 13 started testifying in Odienne, a town in northwest Ivory Coast where she has been detained for the last 18 months and faces charges including genocide and embezzlement.
The Ivorian Popular Front, the party for the Gbagbos, denounced the warrant issued by the ICC.
“This warrant is as unjust as the one that allowed the ICC to imprison Laurent Gbagbo,” Richard Kodjo, the party’s secretary general, told the AFP news agency in Abidjan.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, said shortly after the warrant was made public that she expected Ivory Coast to hand over its former “Iron Lady”, hailing the country for its co-operation.
“We expect the Ivorian authorities to continue cooperating and to surrender Simone Gbagbo to the Court,” she said.
Gbagbo was handed over almost a year ago immediately after the ICC made public his arrest warrant.
Ivory Coast’s new justice minister, Gnenema Coulibaly, said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday that the government would soon respond to the warrant.
The ICC had informed the government of the warrant against Simone shortly after it was issued in February, but Ouattara was against her transfer to The Hague fearing the negative effect that her husband’s transfer had on the reconciliation process, according to AFP.
Ouattara initially wanted the ICC to handle major cases resulting from the conflict, but has said several times in recent months that his country’s justice system should now take over.
Like his wife, Gbagbo is also facing four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and inhuman acts, over the post-election violence the UN said killed about 3,000 lives.
Earlier this month, international judges found Gbagbo was fit enough to stand trial but that his health may require special measures.