Laurent Gbagbo, the biggest fish

2011-11-30 20:52

The Hague - The arrival of ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo to face justice before the International Criminal Court has handed prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo the court's "biggest fish" on a platter, experts said on Wednesday.

"It's certainly a big fish, the largest to date," said Willem van Genugten, international law professor at the southern Tilburg University.

Gbagbo is the first former head of state to face trial before the ICC.

Now behind bars at the court's detention unit in The Hague, Gbagbo is the sixth suspect to be handed over to the ICC, which does not have its own police to make arrests.

Previously former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba had been the most senior politician in the ICC's custody, Van Genugten said.

"There have been other warrants, such as the one against Omar al-Bashir, but well, it's not working," added Goran Sluiter, international criminal law professor at Amsterdam University, referring to the Sudanese president who has been sought by the court since 2009.

Bashir continues to thumb his nose at the ICC, where he is wanted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. He also continues to travel the world, including to countries which signed the ICC's Rome Statute and are supposed to help the court by arresting its suspects.

"I think the Ivory Coast realises it's unable to secure a fair trial [against Gbagbo], which is why it asked the ICC to do so," Van Genugten said.

President Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo's former rival, asked the ICC on May 3 to probe the "most serious crimes" committed in the Ivory Coast following the second round of a presidential poll on November 28 last year.

Victor's justice

The west African country's new rulers had been pressing for weeks to have him transferred to ICC headquarters in The Hague and the move came less than two weeks before the December 11 legislative elections in the former French colony.

"In other words, Luis Moreno-Ocampo did not have to do much," said Van Genugten.

Sluiter added: "Let's not forget that [Gbagbo] is someone who has lost power, is on the losing side and was already in jail," as he warned against what he termed "victors' justice".

Sluiter pointed out Moreno-Ocampo's pledge that both sides will be investigated in the conflict that, according to the United Nations, left some 3 000 dead.

"It's a bit as if he said both sides will be investigated just for form's sake," Sluiter added.

The international law professor did recognise however that for "practical reasons" it was easier to judge losers before the winners, especially to ensure co-operation as long as possible.

Gbagbo's transfer came in the twilight of Moreno-Ocampo's tenure as the ICC's chief prosecutor, a few months before the end of his mandate in June 2012. His successor is to be chosen in December.

"I do not know what the contribution of Luis Moreno-Ocampo was but of course it is very convenient for him that it happened at that time," said Christophe Paulussen, a researcher at the Asser Institute, specialising in international justice.

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