Former Ivory Coast president faces charges at ICC

AP , Tuesday 19 Feb 2013

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is charged with crimes related to post-election violence in 2010

Laurent Gbagbo
Ivory Coast former president Laurent Gbagbo (Photo: Reuters)

International Criminal Court prosecutors will begin laying out evidence Tuesday they say proves that former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is guilty of crimes including murder, rape and persecution in the violent aftermath of his country's disputed 2010 presidential election.

Gbagbo, 67, became the first former head of state to be taken into custody at the permanent war crimes court when he was extradited in November 2011 to face four counts of crimes against humanity. He insists he is innocent.

At the hearing, beginning Tuesday afternoon and scheduled to run through Feb. 28, prosecutors will present a summary of their evidence and judges must decide whether it is strong enough to merit a trial.

Prosecutors say Gbagbo and his supporters plotted to target supporters of current Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara in violence that erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the 2010 election. He is charged as an "indirect co-perpetrator."

Some 300 supporters demonstrated outside the court Tuesday, chanting "Free Gbagbo!" and insisting that he is their country's rightful ruler and not Ouattara.

"The one who lost is controlling the country. That is ridiculous," said Patrice Koute.

The court's judges have already ruled that they have jurisdiction to hear the case, but Gbagbo's lawyers have been given time at the start of the hearing to comment on his case's admissibility. Even though the court has jurisdiction, a case can be ruled inadmissible if Ivory Coast is prosecuting Gbagbo for the same alleged offenses.

The Hague-based tribunal is a court of last resort, which only tries crimes if countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute them.

Human rights activists welcomed the start of the hearing, but also used the occasion to urge the court to also press charges against supporters of Ouattara allegedly involved in months of post-election violence that left some 3,000 people dead in a country once known as one of West Africa's most stable democracies.

"Holding Gbagbo to account is a critical step for victims in (Ivory Coast)," Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "But the slow pace of investigations against pro-Ouattara forces feeds the perception that the ICC is going along with victor's justice."

While Gbagbo is in a jail cell in The Hague, his wife Simone, who also has been charged by the ICC in the post-election violence, remains in custody in Ivory Coast, where officials have charged her with crimes including genocide.

Gbagbo is not the only head of state charged by the court, but he is the only one to have been sent to The Hague.

Prosecutors also have indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges including genocide in Darfur, but he refuses to recognize the court's jurisdiction and the ICC has no police force to arrest suspects.

Short link: