International Criminal Court Upholds Acquittal of Ex-Ivory Coast President

The former Ivorian president was the first head of state to be prosecuted by the court and is entitled now to pursue compensation for what has been nearly a decade in detention. 

Laurent Gbagbo appears before the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court on Wednesday. (Credit: ICC-CPI via Courthouse News)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — An appeals chamber at the International Criminal Court has upheld the 2019 acquittal of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and his Youth Minister Blé Goudé on Wednesday. 

“I am happy to be an exonerated man,” Blé Goudé told reporters after the hearing. Supporters of the pair celebrated in the sunshine outside the courthouse, some wearing shirts with Blé Goudé’s face on them. The 75-year-old Gbagbo left via a back entrance and did not speak to the crowd. 

Gbagbo and Goudé’s trial came to a halt after the prosecution presented their case, with the court declaring the defendants had “no case to answer.” A three-judge appeals panel affirmed the outcome today, nine months after it held arguments.

“The appeals chamber by majority is not persuaded by the prosecutor,” Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji told The Hague-based courtroom.

Goudé was charged in 2014 with ordering militias loyal to him to murder and rape civilians when he refused to hand over power to the now-President Alassane Ouattara following a 2010 election loss. Both men assumed the presidency, kicking off the Second Ivorian Civil War that left some 3,000 dead and displaced more than half a million. 

France eventually intervened in its former colony to oust Gbagbo, who took refuge in a bunker and was eventually forced out and handed off to the ICC in 2011.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Courthouse News photo/Molly Quell)

The prosecution ill-fated case amounted to 231 days of hearings involving 82 witnesses. Judges entered a verdict of acquittal, however, before the defense could present a rebuttal. They said the prosecution failed to present a convincing argument that Gbagbo and Goudé had incited post-election violence. 

Gbagbo nodded in agreement Wednesday when Judge Eboe-Osuji described the original evidence in the case as “exceptionally weak.” Blé Goudé was more expressive, laughing and clapping at moments. The case was criticized for relying too heavily on hearsay evidence and secondhand NGO reports.

“The prosecutor’s evidence did not meet any standard that could be considered as applicable in a criminal trial,” Eboe-Osuji said Thursday.

But Amnesty International lamented the outcome.

“Victims of the 2010-2011 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire will be disappointed again today as the ICC’s Appeals Chamber confirms the acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé, meaning the court has held no one responsible for atrocity crimes committed during this period,” it said in a statement.

Gbagbo and Blé Goudé have not been in custody pending appeal, though both 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 treaty to arrest suspects. 

In 2020, however, the court removed these restrictions. Gbagbo had been living in Belgium since his release, while Goudé remained in the Netherlands. Under the Rome Statute, the men could pursue compensation for their near-decade in detention. Blé Goudé’s lead lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, said after the hearing that they hadn’t decided if they would pursue that option. 

Both men have indicated that they would like to return to Ivory Coast. Blé Goudé was convicted in absentia in Ivory Coast for crimes relating the post-election violence and would be arrested if he returned. Gbagbo had his passport revoked but President Ouattara indicated last year, as part of ongoing peace efforts, that it could be reinstated.

Former Ivory Coast youth minister Charles Blé Goudé celebrates with supporters outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday. (Courthouse News photo/Molly Quell)
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