A lawyer for former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo told International Criminal Court judges Wednesday that prosecutors are making him a "scapegoat" for deadly violence that erupted after his country's disputed 2010 elections.
Gbagbo lawyer Emmanuel Altit claimed at a crucial pretrial hearing that prosecutors are focused solely on one side of the post-election violence and ignoring the role of his rival, current President Alassane Ouattara.
Altit's claim reflects concerns voiced by human rights groups that the fact the court has only publicly indicted Gbagbo and his wife could fuel a perception that it is meting out victor's justice.
Prosecutors say they are conducting an impartial investigation of both sides of the conflict that left some 3,000 people dead and shattered Ivory Coast's reputation as a beacon of democracy in West Africa.
Both sides have been blamed for crimes in the aftermath of the disputed election, which was won by Ouattara, sparking months of violence as Gbagbo refused to accept defeat and supporters of both men clashed repeatedly.
Gbagbo, 67, who was extradited by Ivory Coast authorities in November 2011, is the first former head of state to appear before the 10-year-old court.
Altit accused prosecutors of building their case on evidence gleaned from pro-Ouattara reports, selectively reading evidence collected by human rights organizations and not properly investigating them.
He said prosecutors are setting up "the trial of a scapegoal" and called Gbagbo "simply a man who is guilty of wanting to emancipate his country."
Gbagbo said nothing, but looked relaxed in court, smiling broadly at supporters in the public gallery.
Altit's comments came on the second day of a hearing at which prosecutors will lay out a summary of their evidence so that judges can establish whether it is strong enough to merit sending Gbagbo to trial.
The burden of proof is lower than at a trial. Prosecutors have to convince the three-judge panel that there is sufficient evidence to establish "substantial grounds" to believe Gbagbo committed the crimes against humanity of murder, rape, persecution and inhuman acts.
"The defense will show that it is not possible to establish the existence of substantial grounds to believe that President Gbagbo committed the crimes charged against him," Altit said in his opening statement.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said Gbagbo was prepared to go to any length, including unleashing lethal force on civilian supporters of Ouattara, to cling to power.