ICC says it may try Gbagbo

2012-12-12 21:55
Former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo. (AFP)

Former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo. (AFP)

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The Hague - The International Criminal Court on Wednesday ruled it has jurisdiction to try former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, currently in custody at The Hague, on charges of crimes against humanity.

"The appeal is hereby dismissed," said Judge Anita Usacka in a ruling upholding the ICC's authority to put Gbagbo on trial for charges stemming from his 2010-2011 post-election stand-off with current President Alassane Ouattara, in which some 3 000 people died.

Though the ruling on the court's jurisdiction is final, it remains theoretically possible for Gbagbo to enter a plea of inadmissibility, but his defence team has never said it intended to pursue such an option.

The former strongman faces four counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed after Ivory Coast's disputed polls in November 2010.

The ICC ruled in August it could hear the case because in April 2003 Ivory Coast signed a document in which it recognised the court.

But Gbagbo's lawyers contend the document was signed "under crisis" following a coup attempt in the west African country on 19 September 2002.

The armed rebellion, which saw attacks in Ivory Coast's financial capital Abidjan, as well as in the central city of Bouake and Korhogo in the north, eventually led to the country being split in half, with rebels controlling the north.

The major parties in January 2003 signed a peace deal at Marcoussis in France that allowed for Gbagbo to remain in power with a government to include all parties including rebels.

Gbagbo's defence said the April 2003 declaration only recognised the Hague-based ICC's jurisdiction to try crimes committed between the date of the attempted coup in September 2002 and the Marcoussis deal.

Explicitly accepted

But the ICC's judges decided the document, signed by Gbagbo's then foreign affairs minister Bamba Mamadou, recognised the tribunal's jurisdiction for an "undetermined period."

“The last paragraph of the 2003 declaration suggests that Cote d’Ivoire explicitly accepted the jurisdiction of the court with respect to crimes committed after the 2003 Declaration,” Usacka noted.

In September, Ivory Coast announced it plans to amend its constitution to enable the country to ratify the Statute of Rome, which set up the ICC.

The ICC said Tuesday that a hearing to decide whether Gbagbo should go on trial should be held without further delay.

The former Ivorian strongman, who made his initial appearance before the ICC court on 5 December last year, has yet to face a confirmation of charges hearing at which judges will decide whether or not to put him on trial, based on prosecution evidence.

The confirmation of charges hearing has been delayed several times, including by applications by his lawyers to appoint doctors to determine whether he was fit to stand trial and to have him released pending a possible court appearance.

Healthy

The ICC in June appointed three doctors to assess Gbagbo's health, at the request of his lawyers who said he was tortured during his detention last year by forces loyal to rival and current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

The court however ruled on 2 November that he was well enough to be tried but that his health condition may require special measures. Earlier in the year it rejected the defence's request for a provisional release, saying Gbagbo posed too much of a flight risk.

The former president, who first came to power in October 2000, refused to acknowledge an election loss to Ouattara, a decision that plunged the country into its second armed conflict in a decade.

Holed up in Abidjan, Gbagbo was eventually ousted in April 2011, following two weeks of fierce street fighting that is estimated to have cost 3 000 lives in the west African country.

He was then moved to Korhogo, until he was transferred to ICC custody seven months later on the strength of an international arrest warrant.

- SAPA
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