Former Ivory Coast Leader Is Acquitted by the ICC
Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, was acquitted of four counts of crimes against humanity for murder, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts on Jan. 15 by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. His aide, Charles Blé Goudé, was also facing similar charges of crimes against humanity and was likewise acquitted. They were being held on charges related to violence that broke out following the 2010 Ivory Coast presidential elections.
In 2010, Gbagbo was narrowly defeated in a runoff by his opponent Ouattara. Gbagbo refused to give up office and insisted that he had won. This led to months of instability in the country and over 3,000 deaths. In April 2011, Gbagbo was arrested.
Gbagbo, however, still has a large group of supporters who believe that their leader was unfairly singled out for the blame. In the international community, many also want to see Ouattara’s side held accountable for accusations of torture and killings. According to Human Rights Watch, the ICC is investigating Ouattara’s involvement, but this has been a slow process due to budget constraints and a lack of cooperation from the Ouattara government.
This trial was seen as being as being an important challenge for the ICC tribunal. Gbagbo, now 73 years old, was the first-ever former head of state to reach trial at the ICC. The failure of the prosecution is believed to be a major blow to the court’s effectiveness. It also comes on the wings of the overturned conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former DRC vice-president who was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Belgium has agreed to host Gbagbo after he was finally freed on Feb. 1. He was originally kept in custody because the prosecution argued that Mr. Gbagbo might not return for a retrial if the original decision was overturned on appeal. Judges agreed to release Gbagbo and his former aid “on the condition that they live a third country pending an appeal by the prosecution.” Other conditions of his release, such as possible restrictions of movement, are still being discussed by the ICC.
While some may be celebrating his release, others fear that violence, like that seen in 2010 and 2011, may resurge in Ivory Coast.