Ivory Coast's “Iron Lady” Simone Gbagbo, who was charged with orchestrating attacks on supporters of her husband's opponent after the 2010 election, has been cleared.
An Ivory Coast court has found the former first lady not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, following a trial to examine her alleged role in post-election abuses that led to the deaths of thousands. Gbagbo was absent from court.
High court judge Kouadio Bouatchi said a jury unanimously voted to free Gbagbo. The prosecution had asked for a life sentence, stating that she sat on a committee that organized the attacks. "After her spouse came to power, she started to impose herself as the real head of Ivory Coast, the army, the police and gendarmerie," prosecutor Aly Yeo said.
The 67-year-old wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo must still serve 20 years in prison after being found guilty, in 2015, of offenses against the state. Laurent Gbagbo – who was handed over, in Nov. 2011, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – is currently on trial facing charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution. The ICC also issued a warrant for Simone's arrest, but Ivorian authorities insisted she would receive a fair trial at home.
Ivory Coast descended into civil war in 2011, after Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a presidential run-off election. About 3,000 people were killed during the conflict. "We regret this decision when we think of the many victims," Soungaola Coulibaly, lawyer for the victims, told Reuters. "If Simone Gbagbo is declared not guilty of these acts then who was? ...The victims do not understand this decision."
Human Rights Watch said the judgement left serious unanswered questions about her alleged role in brutal crimes. "The acquittal... reflects the many irregularities in the process against her," said Param-Preet Singh, associate director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "The poor quality of the investigation and weak evidence presented in her trial underscore the importance of the ICC's outstanding case against her for similar crimes."