Warrant Issued For Ivory Coast's Ex-First Lady

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the former first lady of the Ivory Coast. Simone Gbagbo is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the fighting that followed last year's election in Ivory Coast. Her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, is already in the custody of the ICC and is awaiting trial in the Hague.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The International Criminal Court has identified another defendant in its prosecution of violence in Ivory Coast. The former president is already awaiting trial in The Hague, accused of crimes against humanity for his effort to stay in power after losing an election. Now the court is calling his wife a co-perpetrator, and issued a warrant for the arrest of Simone Gbagbo. NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton covered the conflict. She's on the line. Ofeibea, welcome back to the program.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings from Accra, Ghana.

INSKEEP: So, what did Simone Gbagbo allegedly do?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, the charge sheet of alleged crimes talks of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhumane acts during the violence. And this warrant on four counts of crimes against humanity was initially issued in February, Steve, but it was only made public by the international public court yesterday. And incidentally, it's the first to be issued by the ICC for a woman. And the court has called on Ivory Coast to surrender Madame Simone Ehivet Gbagbo.

INSKEEP: A long wait to publicize the warrant. Any idea why?

QUIST-ARCTON: Not quite sure why, but it's actually really serious, because the ICC is accusing Ivory Coast's former first lady of participating in and planning and orchestrating this eruption of violence that followed the presidential election in 2010.

The results, of course, were disputed. Laurent Gbagbo said he had won. Ivory Coast's current president, Alassane Ouattara, said he had won. And after Gbagbo refused to step down, about 3,000 people were killed in the outburst of violence. Now, the arrest warrant says - and I'm quoting - "Mrs. Gbagbo was ideologically and professionally very close to her husband, Mr. Gbagbo. She participated in all the meetings during the relevant period. Although unelected, she behaved as an alter-ego of her husband, exercising power and making decisions of state."

So, the court says that the violence that was committed was part of a common plan, and that Gbagbo's inner circle - to which, of course, Madame Simone Ehivet Gbagbo belonged - met frequently to discuss the implementation and the coordination of the plan.

INSKEEP: Did you ever meet Simone Gbagbo while covering the violence in that country?

QUIST-ARCTON: I've reported on the Gbagbos since I lived in Ivory Coast in 1990. Laurent Gbagbo was known as the historic opposition leader to the then-President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. And he and Madame Gbagbo used to have open house for journalists and others. And this was when multi-party democracy was returning to Africa and to West Africa. The couple was very - in those days, seemed really pleasant, very welcoming and discussed that Ivory Coast needed to go a different way after 30 years of one-party rule. And this is what they have come to 20 years later.

INSKEEP: So they seemed like advocates of freedom, became the rulers of the country, and then ended up being involved in thousands of killings. What are people in Ivory Coast saying now that the president's wife, as well as the former president, are accused of these crimes?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, you have the Gbagbo supporters who are saying this is proof of victor's justice, that the new government in Ivory Coast and even the ICC has only gone after supporters or Laurent Gbagbo himself, now his wife, and that the violence was not only perpetrated by pro-Gbagbo supporters, and that those who fought on the side of President Alassane Ouattara, the current president, should also be brought to justice for the violence that they are responsible for.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Ofeibea, thanks as always.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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