ICC acquits former Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo in shock ruling
The former president of the Ivory Coast was acquitted of crimes against humanity by judges at the International Criminal Court yesterday in a shock setback to efforts to convict senior statesmen of atrocities.
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goude, his former youth minister, were facing charges including rape and murder relating to a wave of post-election violence that left 3,000 people dead in 2010-2011.
Judges on Tuesday concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove several key parts of the allegations, including the existence of a policy to target civilians and that public speeches amounted to orders to carry out atrocities.
Cuno Tarfusser, the presiding judge, said that the court "by majority hereby decides that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard."
He added that the court "grants the defence motions for acquittal for all charges for Mr Laurent Gbagbo and Mr Charles Blé Goude and orders the immediate release of both accused."
The two men hugged as the verdict was read out.
Mr Gbago, 73, was the first former head of state to stand trial at the international court in the Hague, and human rights campaigners had hoped the case would mark a breakthrough in efforts to bring other high-ranking suspects to justice.
Ivory Coast was plunged into bloodshed after Mr Gbagbo was narrowly defeated by his bitter rival – now president – Alassane Ouattara in elections in December 2010.
Four months of fighting followed, ravaging the world’s largest cocoa producer and leaving some 3,000 people dead, according to the UN, many of them perceived supporters of Mr Ouattara. Human rights groups accused both sides of atrocities.
Mr Gbagbo was captured by Mr Ouattara’s troops, who were being aided by UN and French forces, and sent to The Hague November 2011. His trial started in January 2016. Mr Blé Goude was arrested in 2013 in neighbouring Ghana.
In 2015 a court in Ivory Coast on found former first lady Simone Gbagbo guilty of charges related to her role in the violence and sentenced her to 20 years in prison.
Amnesty International described the decision as a "crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire."
"The Office of the Prosecutor has the possibility to appeal this acquittal and the arrangements for the accused to be released will be addressed during a hearing to be held tomorrow morning at the Court," said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Regional Director.
“This ICC ruling reminds us that fair trial and due process must be at the heart of international criminal justice. Victims of the 2010-2011 violence are yet to see justice and reparations for the harm they suffered.” she added.
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