Ivory Coast’s feisty former first lady Simone Gbagbo went on trial Tuesday for crimes against humanity in what many see as a litmus case for justice in the west African country.
The hearings into the 66-year-old’s role in post-election carnage in 2010 is expected to last a month with 32 witnesses testifying.
Security was tight with the entrance to the court sealed off and Kalashnikov-wielding officers guarding the complex as she was led in and seated in a red chair opposite the bench.
Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Gbagbo is accused of planning and organising rights abuses against supporters of her husband’s presidential rival in a bid to maintain Laurent Gbagbo in power at all costs.
He was finally defeated at the polls however and is currently also facing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
More than 3,000 people died in the nation in bloody post-poll violence which petered out only after 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 faces allegations of crimes against prisoners of war, crimes against the civilian population and crimes against humanity.
This is her second trial in Ivory Coast where she is being held behind bars in Abidjan after a 20-year conviction for “attacking state security”.
Witnesses have accused her of personally distributing arms to death squads that operated in Abidjan during the five-month conflict but she has repeatedly denies this.
Human Rights Watch said the trial “could be a pivotal moment for justice” in the world’s top cocoa producer, a beacon of stability in restive west Africa until a 1999 coup that was shortly followed by years of low-level civil war.
The decade of strife and last wrenching months of violence between pro- and anti-Gbagbo supporters have left deep divisions and grievances that still need to be reconciled.
The trial opens just five days after the Supreme Court rejected her final appeal against the 20-year sentence she was handed last year.