THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Lawyers for the former president of the Ivory Coast argued at the International Criminal Court on Thursday that the conditions of his release should be lifted.
Laurent Gbagbo along with his co-defendant, former youth minister Charles Blé Goudé, appeared before the global court for atrocity crimes to argue that restrictions placed upon them following their January 2019 acquittal should be removed, despite the prosecutions’ plan for a retrial.
The gallery was filled with supporters, who Gbagbo waved at when he entered the courtroom.
The two men had been accused of crimes against humanity for their role in violence that erupted following the 2010 election, in which both Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara claimed the presidency.
Some 3,000 people died in the post-election violence which triggered the Second Ivorian Civil War.
Judges in 2019 found the prosecution failed to make its case and halted the trial midway through, acquitting the two men. The men were both provisionally released, pending appeal, but were ordered to relinquish their passports and attend weekly check-ins with the authorities.
Under the 2002 Rome Statute, which created the court, defendants do not have to be immediately released upon acquittal if the prosecutor plans to appeal. The International Criminal Court has no enforcement apparatus and relies on signatories to the statue to arrest suspects. Gbagbo was surrendered to the court by Ivorian authorities.
“No restrictions can be placed on the freedom of a person who has been acquitted,” argued Leiden University professor of international law Dov Jacobs on behalf of Gbagbo.
Now 73, Gbagbo was detained for seven years during the trial.
Along with the prosecution, the government of the West African country argued before the five-judge appeals panel that Gbagbo should be forced to remain in Belgium, which agreed to host him. Blé Goudé is currently living in the Netherlands.
Ouattara, who ultimately prevailed as president in 2010, is concerned that if Gbagbo does return it could lead to more unrest. In its written submission, the Ivorian government argued that if the conditions are removed, Gbagbo would return to the country and destabilize the fragile democracy, which has elections scheduled for later this year.
The prosecution further argued that Gbagbo would have the opportunity to intimidate witnesses who would be needed to testify at a future retrial, which could move forward if the prosecution wins its appeal.
The court is accepting written submissions from all parties and will likely rule later this year.