Ivory Coast’s Ex-First Lady Claims Attempted Rape

ABIDJAN – Ivory Coast’s former first lady Simone Gbagbo on Wednesday denied charges of crimes against humanity during political violence in 2010 and said she had suffered attempted rape while in detention.

“I stand before this court on the demand of the government and for crimes that I did not commit,” Gbagbo said as her trial went into its second day.

“I am accused of facts that have not been proven. And not only that, I am accused of direct involvement,” she said, wearing a violet scarf around her shoulders.

The wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, nicknamed Ivory Coast’s “Iron Lady”, also said she suffered a rape attempt when she and her husband were arrested on April 11, 2011.

She also claimed French soldiers deployed in Ivory Coast filmed the attempted rape.

Simone Gbagbo is accused of planning and organising rights abuses against supporters of her husband’s presidential rival to try to keep him in power at any cost.

Gbagbo refused to admit defeat at the hands of his rival in 2010, triggering violence between the two sides. He is currently also facing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

More than 3,000 people died in the post-poll bloodbath which petered out on the arrest of the Gbagbo couple in 2011, when troops stormed the bunker where they had taken refuge in the nation’s main city, Abidjan.

Simone Gbagbo denies charges of crimes against prisoners of war, crimes against the civilian population and crimes against humanity.

Several human rights groups representing victims have pulled out of the legal proceedings, saying the case against her was flawed and too hastily organised.

Prosecutors hit back at the criticism on Wednesday. “The trial that began yesterday will be a fair trial that will respect the rights of the defence, a transparent trial,” said Abidjan’s chief prosecutor, Aly Yeo.

In court, Simone Gbagbo lashed out at her husband’s rival, now president of Ivory Coast. of instigating the 2010 bloodshed.

“The post-election crisis was born from the refusal of Alassane Ouattara, with the help of French authorities, to respect the constitution of Ivory Coast,” she claimed.

“Personally, I arrived at the Golf hotel (Ouattara’s headquarters) with my buttocks exposed, naked, and I suffered several attempts to rape me in broad daylight … and all this in the presence of French soldiers who were filming this,” she said.

When she was arrested, the former first lady was manhandled and forced to appear in photographs that showed her dress torn at the shoulder.