Ivory Coast is awaiting a critical ICC decision on Gbagbo’s acquittal

The International Criminal Court will decide on Wednesday whether to grant the acquittal of Côte d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, the first head of state to appear before the court.

Gbagbo, 75, and his former youth leader Charles Ble Goude were cleared of crimes against humanity in 2019 over a wave of violence following the election in the West African nation more than a decade ago.

The prosecutor has appealed the acquittal and wants a new trial for the bloodshed, when more than 3,000 people were killed after Gbagbo disputed the results of the 2010 vote.

Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the current president, but French troops eventually intervened and Ouattara’s loyalists drove Gbagbo from his bunker.

He has been sent to the ICC in The Hague since 2011.

The verdict will be read out at 15.00 (1300 GMT) by the Court of Appeal of the Hague-based Court, chaired by former ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji, and including its current head, Piotr Hofmanski, the ICC said in a statement.

Gbagbo has lived in Brussels waiting for Wednesday’s decision but plans to go home if it goes his way thanks to an olive branch offered by his former rival.

It was not yet confirmed whether Gbagbo and Blé Goudé would be in court for the decision or present at the video link due to coronavirus restrictions, an ICC spokesman told AFP.

The verdict will be followed closely in Côte d’Ivoire, where Gbagbo’s shadow still hangs over a nation that remains embroiled in political crisis.

Gbagbo was president from 2000 to 2010, a time of unrest in the world’s leading cocoa grower, formerly an oasis of peace and prosperity in troubled West Africa.

“Tarnished” decision

His old enemy Ouattara ignited renewed unrest last year when he announced he would seek a third term, a move that critics say violated constitutional boundaries.

Clashes claimed 87 lives while most of the opposition stumbled on the October vote, which Ouattara still won by landslide.

But after Ouattara offered to give Gbagbo a passport to help him return, Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party ended a year-long election boycott.

The ICC prosecutor’s case against Gbagbo’s acquittal focuses on what is said to be a procedural error, when judges in 2019 did not make a proper written verdict but announced the decision orally.

Prosecutor Helen Brady told a hearing that this was “no harmless procedural irregularity” but had “damaged the very core” of the decision.

The prosecutor insisted that it had presented important evidence with 4,610 documents and 96 witnesses interviewed during the trial.

The verdict is meanwhile the key to the International Criminal Court’s credibility after a series of high-profile failures and controversies.

The outgoing ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda suffered a series of setbacks, including the Gbagbo case and the acquittal following an appeal by former DR Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also saw allegations of crimes against humanity due to the bloodshed of Bensouda.

The ICC is the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, established in 2002 to try the world’s worst crime.

But it has been criticized for focusing heavily on African suspects so far, while a probe into the Palestinian territories has upset Israel and the United States.

Bensouda is also under US sanctions after launching a probe into war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan.

( Jowharwith AFP)