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Time for the ICC to release Laurent Gbagbo

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo waits for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. File picture: Peter Dejong/AP Photo.

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo waits for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. File picture: Peter Dejong/AP Photo.

Published Nov 25, 2018


This week the SACP joined the ranks of those calling for the ICC to release former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo after growing allegations of gross political interference and manipulation by the former colonial power in his case.

Gbagbo’s trial is currently underway in the Hague, and it would seem that Gbagbo’s defence lawyers have easily destroyed the narratives of the ICC prosecutor, who is accused of capitulating to French pressure to try Gbagbo. 

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It would seem this is a case of justice denied after the ICC has held this former African president for seven years without concluding his trial - largely due to a lack of evidence against him.

Gbagbo was initially arrested in 2011 by French forces and handed to his competitor Alassane Ouattara’s rebel forces - Ouattara is largely considered France’s “man” in the Ivory Coast. 

Following Gbagbo’s irregular arrest he was transferred to the ICC in the Hague, and targeted by the ICC’s Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo who was perceived by many to have been a tool of western powers. 

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As Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth said at the time, “Ocampo was more interested in issuing arrest warrants than in conducting criminal investigations.”

The ICC was allocated a budget of 4-8 million Euros to investigate allegations of post-election violence against Gbagbo, but failed to ever investigate the same allegations levied against Ouattara, even though Ouattara’s forces were alleged to have massacred hundreds of civilians, at one point killing 800 in just two days. It should be noted that France contributes 10% of the ICC budget.

When Gbagbo’s trial started in February 2013, two years after his arrest, the new ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (who had been Ocampo’s assistant) could not convince all three judges that there was enough evidence against Gbagbo. 

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According to French online investigative news site Mediapart, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was aware of the weakness of Bensouda’s case and had rushed to the Hague to discuss progress of the case with the French ambassador.

Bensouda’s team took another year to try and gather enough evidence against him. 

It was only in May 2014 that the charges against him were confirmed. Some evidence brought against him by the prosecution in the pre-trial hearings was proven to be fabricated, with one video of his followers allegedly carrying out massacres having actually been shot in Kenya.

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The ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was later to admit to one of the presidential candidates of the Central African Republic (CAR) Pascal Bida Koyagbele at a dinner in the Netherlands,“There is nothing serious against Gbagbo, it’s political pressure coming from France and I can do nothing.” 

Koyagbele contends that Bensouda had lobbied France to be appointed as ICC chief prosecutor.

But perhaps more importantly is why the ICC was being used as a political instrument by the former colonial power to neutralise Gbagbo from the political scene of the Ivory Coast. 

The fundamental reason was that since becoming president in 2000, Gbagbo had become the greatest threat to France’s domination in Ivory Coast as well as Francophone Africa. 

Gbagbo had started to reduce the dominance of French corporations over the economy,  and the concern was that this could be replicated across West Africa.

Gbagbo was determined to relax France’s control over banking, insurance, transport, cocoa trading and energy policy, and had invited companies from other countries to tender for government projects. 

Gbagbo was appalled by the gross overspending on French projects, such as the bridge France was to build in the capital Abidjan for 200 billion CFA francs, a contract he cancelled when the Chinese said they could build the bridge for 60 billion CFA francs in 2002.  

Then there was Gbagbo’s opposition to France maintaining its colonial pact with its former colonies whereby the French treasury controls their currencies, capital reserves, and trade and investment policies. 

Under the agreement between France and its former colonies on the creation of the CFA franc, the central banks of its former colonies are obliged to keep 80% of its foreign exchange reserves in an operations account held at the French treasury in Paris.

This has made it impossible for countries to regulate their own monetary policies.

Gbagbo’s incarceration at the Hague was a solution of last resort, when all other means to neutralise him, including a series of coups, had failed. 

The tragedy of the story is that Gbagbo had actually returned Ivory Coast to multiparty democracy, ensured press freedom and fought for the total sovereignty of an African country still under the yoke of neo-colonialism. 

It is time the world recognises that the ICC has been manipulated in this instance, and as  Africans we need to ensure that this type of manipulation does not continue, as there is no other alternative to the ICC in terms of prosecuting gross violations of human rights.

*Shannon Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor

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