Ex-President of Ivory Coast Acquitted by the ICC
Ivory Coast’s former-president, Laurent Gbagbo, arrived in Belgium on February 6 following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court (ICC). According to the Guardian, Belgian authorities agreed to host the former-president after a three-judge panel at The Hague cleared Gbagbo and his co-defendant, youth leader Charles Blé Goudé, of all charges on January 15. The pair had been under investigation for four counts of crimes against humanity in relation to the 2010 Ivorian elections.
During those elections, Gbagbo, who came to power through the popular removal of a military autocrat, refused to concede defeat to his longtime political rival and the internationally recognized victor, Alassane Ouattara. In the subsequent months, over 3,000 people were killed as the election dispute descended into violent civil conflict. Over one million people were displaced, according to numbers from the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Ouattara formally took power following four months of unrest, after UNand French-backed forces removed Gbagbo from his refuge in a bunker inside the presidential palace. An arrest warrant was issued for Gbagbo soon after, and he was flown to The Hague, where he became the first head of state to go on trial before the ICC. Blé Goudé was also extradited to the court, and the two men were jointly accused of pursuing a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power “at all costs.” According to ICC reports, their joint trial for multiple counts of murder, rape, persecution, and “other inhumane acts” began in 2016.
However, despite seven years in custody and an extensive trial that called over 80 witnesses, the ICC concluded in a January 15 press release that the prosecutor had “failed to submit sufficient evidence to demonstrate the responsibility of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé for the incidents.”
Gbagbo’s release is contingent on compliance with a number of conditions, including surrendering his passport to authorities, not releasing any public statements on the matter, and committing to return to the court pending any appeal.
Supporters were visibly jubilant at the news of Gbagbo’s release. Crying and dancing broke out among crowds that had gathered in Abdijan to watch the court proceedings on big screens. However, the ruling has also come under fierce criticism from many observers.
According to AfricaNews, some Abdijan residents expressed fears that Gbagbo’s release could reawaken conflict and provoke further bloodshed in the capital, potentially casting shadows over the upcoming 2020 elections, reports NPR.
According to Reuters, one Ivorian shopkeeper incredulously asked, “How can you free someone who has killed our children and our husbands?” Amnesty International echoed these sentiments, hailing the acquittals as “a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in [Ivory Coast].”
The outcome also renews broader questions over the effectiveness of the ICC as an instrument of international justice. The organization was created in 2002 to hold individuals to account for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity