Laurent Gbagbo arrives to face ICC

2011-11-30 07:00
Rotterdam - Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague on Wednesday, where he faces an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court and being the first former head of state to be tried by the ICC since its inception in 2002.

The ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court which is also pursuing Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and investigating alleged crimes in Kenya, Libya and Central African Republic, has so far declined to comment on the warrant.

The indictment is a victory for ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has up to now struggled to get hold of some of his biggest targets.

The ICC opened an investigation last month into killings, rapes and other abuses committed during a four-month conflict in Ivory Coast triggered by Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to Alassane Ouattara in an election last year.

The conflict ended only when French-backed pro-Ouattara forces captured Gbagbo on April 11.

'Political decision'

Gbagbo was flown by helicopter on Tuesday from remote Korhogo in northern Ivory Coast, where he had been under house arrest since his capture, and transferred on to a plane, Ivorian military officials said.

The Ivory Coast plane landed at Rotterdam airport and entered a hangar, a Reuters witness said. A convoy was later seen arriving at the detention centre in The Hague.

The ICC's silence over Gbagbo's transfer to the Netherlands overnight means there is as yet no information on what exactly the former president is to be charged with.

"There are no official charges against him that have been indicated to us. It's a political decision and not a judicial one against Gbagbo," his lawyer Lucie Bourthoumieux told Reuters by phone from France on Tuesday.

Gbagbo is one of between two and six people the ICC prosecutor says he wants to focus on in the case. His capture in April ended a civil war that killed 3 000 people and uprooted more than a million.

But his trial by the ICC is likely to prove as divisive as his election loss - almost half of Ivorians voted for him.

Gbagbo's FPI party is boycotting legislative polls next month in protest against the detention of many of its members.

The militiamen who backed Gbagbo during the dispute have largely fled, been disarmed or are in hiding, but popular anger, especially in Gbagbo's homeland in the west, could easily flare.

'Victors' justice'

"This victors' justice is in reality nothing but a political manoeuvre designed to liquidate President Gbagbo," his aide Toussaint Alain said in a statement.

The charge of victors' justice would be easier for Ouattara to refute if any of his men had been arrested for alleged crimes during the conflict, but none have.

"Efforts to hold those to account who fought in the forces allied with Ouattara are also essential ... forces on both sides have been repeatedly implicated in grave crimes," said Elise Keppler, Senior Counsel of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The sight of Gbagbo on trial at the ICC could anger many Ivorians after Moreno-Ocampo said Libya could try Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam at home, despite an ICC warrant for him.

The ICC is the world's first and only permanent war crimes court, set up by the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998.

So far it has failed to bring the biggest names to trial.

Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed, while Bashir, wanted by the ICC on charges of orchestrating genocide in the Darfur region, has travelled to countries including ICC members Malawi, Chad, Kenya and Djibouti without being arrested.

The ICC's first trial, against accused Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, has been mired in procedural delays and objections from the defence over evidence disclosure.

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