Conflict & Justice

Laurent Gbagbo Faces International Criminal Court

By Laura Lynch

The man who used to lead Ivory Coast has become the first former head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court.

Laurent Gbagbo appeared in the court at The Hague on Monday to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Now a prisoner, Laurent Gbagbo stood before a panel of judges as a suspect accused of orchestrating bloodshed and violence.

His stone-faced expression before the court was a stark contrast to the animated man who tried to cling to power for weeks after a disputed presidential election last year.

The country slipped into a civil war that costed about 3,000 lives. French backed forces supporting challenger Alassane Ouattara eventually arrested Gbagbo.

He had been held under house arrest for months until last week, when ICC prosecutors arrested him and flew him to The Hague.

Monday, Gbagbo complained about the process.

"With regard to the way I was brought to The Hague, I was surprised by how it happened," Gbagbo said. "If I had been told that I was being arrested and flown to The Hague, I might have agreed. But once again, we were deceived."

The former president said he had no notice of the arrest.

One of his lawyers, Habiba Toure, said he was flown out of the country before he had a chance to properly consult with his legal team.

"It was completely illegal," Toure said. "The Ivorian authorities didn't respect the process because the president Laurent Gbagbo didn't have the time to defend himself. We didn't have the time to speak with him, to explain to him what happened. He was transferred brutally."

One of his advisors, Alain Toussaint accuses the court of bending to the will of France, which backed Gbagbo's ouster from power.

"The International Criminal Court has become a pathetic tool, which France uses to advance its dark political designs, orchestrate Africa's political affairs, put its own friends in power," Toussaint said.

Complaints over Gbagbo's arrest are fuelling criticism of the way the court operates.

That isn't surprising to Geoffrey Nice. He prosecuted former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Nice said by going after Gbagbo while there are still accusations of atrocities against his rival Ouattara, the court is taking a risk.

"Critics of the processes and recent practice of the International Criminal Court raise as a possibility that the court really becomes involved in conflicts by selecting one side over the other," Nice said.

But the chief prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, suggested Ouattara and his supporters are under investigation.

"I said very clearly, this is the first case, not the last case," Moreno-Ocampo said.

"We'll do a sequence of cases not all together where we follow different evidence and we bring more cases during the coming year."

There is another challenge for the ICC as it takes on the case against Gbagbo — a sense that there are too many Africans on trial, Nice said.

"There has been talk within Africa of countries withdrawing from the ICC because of its apparent focus on Africa to the exclusion of other countries," Nice said. "This would be a matter of great concern from those who want the ICC to succeed."

It is a reminder that the court, still trying to establish its legitimacy, hasn't been embraced by the United States, Russia or China and it's why the case against Gbagbo will be watched so closely.

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