Gbagbo case puts ICC in a bind: The protracted case against the former leader of Cote d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, and his Youth Minister has exposed the frailties of the ICC, an institution meant to deal with international justice, as it now finds itself embroiled in complicated legalese.

Author:Davies, Desmond
Position:Around Africa: Cote d'Ivoire
 
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In June 2013, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague bent over backwards to assist the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in its case against the former President of Cote d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, who was accused of committing crimes against humanity between 2010 and 2011 during the country's civil war.

At the time, the judges in the pretrial chamber themselves said the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda from The Gambia, had not presented evidence solid enough to prosecute Gbagbo.

In normal circumstances, according to legal experts, the case should have been dismissed and Gbagbo freed. But the judges gave the OTP an extra five months to look for evidence that would nail not just Gbagbo but also his Youth Minister, Charles Ble Goude.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, speaking in 2015, noted: "Any normal judge would have declared Gbagbo free and released him."

However, on 15 January this year, the ICC's Trial Chamber acquitted both men of all charges because the OTP failed to deliver. The judges said the OTP's case was "exceptionally weak," clearly making it obvious that an appeal would not succeed.

But this highly politically-charged case took a turn for the worse, legally speaking, three days later. Instead of releasing Gbagbo and Ble Goude, judges in the Appeals Chamber voted 3-2 on 18 January to keep both men in detention until an appeal by the OTP was heard on 1 February. It was another sop to the OTP, which legal experts said was unprecedented.

Charles Taku from Cameroon, who is President of the ICC Bar Association, said on Twitter: "The order of detention of acquitted persons casts a slur on the image and integrity of the Court. It is an affront to the international rule of law.

"The detention adds to a catalogue of challenges the Court is facing. I am afraid that the outcome of the hearing tomorrow may not redress the damage caused to the image of the Court. The unfortunate precedent may be pointed to by states and persons disaffected by the Court, as one more compelling reason for forsaking the Rome Statute and the Court. Yet, I honestly believe that the precedent is not justified under the Rome Statute," Taku added.

Thijs Bouwknegt, a Dutch historian and former journalist, who has, since 2006, attended and covered all ICC (pre-)trials in The Hague, also took a swipe at the ICC. Writingforjusticeinfo.net on 31 January, he said of the Gbagbo and Ble Goude case: "From the beginning, the Prosecution had built its...

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