The trial of the former first lady of Ivory Coast, Simone Gbagbo — for her alleged role in the 2010 post-election massacre that has since left 3,000 people dead and 1 million homeless — began Friday. Gbagbo, along with 82 supporters of her husband, has been charged with “attempting to undermine the security of the state,” according to BBC News.
“If she is found guilty, she will get 20 years to life because we are talking about a crime against state security,” prosecutor Soungalo Coulibaly reportedly said on Friday.
Defense attorney Rodrigue Dadje has reportedly dismissed the charges, saying the prosecution has failed to present any sound evidence of Simone’s involvement in the bloody power struggle. “It is only a political attack against her,” Dadje told Voice of America News. “In this claim, there [are] no facts against Madam Gbagbo. Nobody can tell Madame Gbagbo that [on] January, February or March [she] did something like this or like that, and this action is an infraction.”
The post-election violence broke out five years ago in the economic capital of Abidjan after Simone’s husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, refused to relinquish power to his rival and the declared winner, Alassane Ouattara. Laurent, a member of the FPI party, was removed in 2011 by Ivorian rebels and international forces led by France, according to Reuters.
The United Nations said Ivory Coast has since made strides with significant infrastructure projects underway, but Ouattara’s party, RDR, is still struggling to reconcile with the FPI, his former foes and the main opposition party who were in power for a decade, according to Al Jazeera.
A report released by the Ivorian justice ministry in July said 659 pro-opposition civilians and militants were arrested for their alleged roles in the post-election violence. Of those, 275 — including the Gbagbo’s eldest son, Michel — have been tentatively freed since 2012, but 384 are still detained. The FPI has denied its members were involved in the violence and has demanded their unconditional release before having any meaningful dialogue with Ouattara’s government, Al Jazeera reported.
“That is just a little sign that Ivory Coast needs total reconciliation to progress faster. Peace and stability will not be strong enough and cannot guarantee prosperity unless the sons and daughters of the land truly bury the hatchet,” Jean Aka Kouame, political science professor at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan, told Al Jazeera over the summer.
Laurent, 69, is being held in the Netherlands where he awaits trial at the International Criminal Court for multiple charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and persecution. The West African leader is the first former head of state to have appeared at the international court in The Hague, according to BBC News.
Simone, 65, has also been charged by the international court for crimes against humanity, but Ivory Coast has insisted she be tried in domestic court, according to BBC News. The former first lady has been under house arrest for three years in northern Ivory Coast since she was arrested in 2011, but was transported to Abidjan this month ahead of her trial, according to Al Jazeera.