Former President of Cote d'Ivoire Laurent Koudou Gbagbo at his initial appearance at the ICC on December 5, 2011. Photo: ICC-CPI/Peter Dejong
As AMICC has explained in its advocacy papers, the International Criminal Court has been investigating the Cote d’Ivoire situation since October 3, 2011. Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the Court, it accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction which means the Prosecutor could and did ask for permission from the Pre-Trial Chamber to examine alleged crimes there. The scope of the investigation now includes alleged atrocity crimes that occurred between September 19, 2002 and November 28, 2010. A year ago an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber issued an arrest warrant for former Cote d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo for four counts of crimes against humanity. He is now the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. There have been some delays in this case to determine if Gbagbo was fit to stand trial and the Court recently denied his request to leave The Hague while awaiting trial. There have also been developments in domestic cases dealing with related crimes.
Background of the Conflict
Divided by ethnic and religious lines, Cote d’Ivoire has been split between the north and the south since 2002. In November 2010, the sitting president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing re-election to former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. Despite pressure from various organizations, such as the African Union and the United Nations, Gbagbo refused to cede power. Subsequently, Gbagbo used security forces to “terrorize citizens in the country’s principal city, Abidjan, where more than 3,000 people were killed and uncounted were raped or mistreated.”
Domestic Justice Initiatives
The new leadership under Ouattara has committed to holding perpetrators of atrocity crimes accountable in domestic courts: “The murderers will be punished. The investigations are under way to shine the light on crimes…” On October 2, 2012 General Bruno Dogbo Ble, head of Gbagbo’s Republican Guard was the first individual to stand trial for post election violence in the country. He is currently charged with “a host of abuses that ‘likely constitute crimes against humanity.’” Also, Ivorian prosecutor Noel Dje Enrike Yahau has charged eight of Gbagbo’s top allies with genocide
Despite domestic initiatives for justice, both Gbagbo’s and Ouattara’s forces are alleged to have targeted “victims based on ethnicity and presumed political affiliation.” The Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire, who are loyal to Ouattara, are alleged to have committed various forms of violence. One of these includes an attack in Duekoue where hundreds of people thought to be supporting Gbagbo were murdered. Under Ouattara’s government, Cote d’Ivoire domestic prosecutions have come under criticism. So far no one loyal to Ouattara has been charged of atrocity crimes. Moreover, various analysts believe that the behavior of pro-Gbagbo forces do not meet the requirements of genocide, despite claims made by domestic courts. The head of the Cote d’Ivoire Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CI CPI) believes that Ivorian courts are not equipped to offer impartial justice.
Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the ICC, it signed the Rome Statute on November 30, 1998 and accepted the Court’s jurisdiction three times. On September 26, 2012, the government adopted a series of bills to facilitate ratification of the treaty. The CI CPI and other members of Ivorian civil society believe that this is encouraging, but that more work is necessary to ensure impartial justice, such as increased ICC outreach to victims of atrocity crimes.
In The Hague, the Gbagbo case is proceeding slowly. Pre-trial judges postponed the confirmation of charges hearing, initially set for August, in order to allow for Gbagbo's health to be assessed. A few weeks later, the judges affirmed the validity of the government's acceptance of jurisdiction, rejecting an application to dismiss the case against Gbagbo.
Domestic courts have come under criticism for claims of victor’s justice. However, since the ICC has broadened the scope of its investigation to include alleged crimes that occurred since September 19, 2002, and the Prosecutor has vowed to "collect evidence impartially and independently," all perpetrators of atrocity crimes may be prosecuted. Moreover, Cote d’Ivoire government initiatives to ratify the Rome Statute may discourage any attempts to promote unfair justice.