(CN) - Individuals found to have incited riots against the president of the Ivory Coast are too late to challenge their inclusion on a blacklist, Europe's highest court ruled Tuesday.
After Alassane Ouattara defeated Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in October 2010, Gbagbo, his wife and his former cabinet responded with a propaganda war. The Council of the European Union reacted by blacklisting the rabble-rousers, banning their entry into the EU and freezing all EU-held assets.
EU lawmakers assembled a dossier on the group, accusing Gbagbo and former prime minister Affi N'Guessan of "expression of radical views and active disinformation [and] incitement to violence."
For "participation in the illegitimate government of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo," the document listed former budget minister Justin Kone Katina and Daniele Boni Claverie, a French national who had served as minister for Women, the Family and Children.
The group fought the sanctions with a July 2011 lawsuit, but the General Court of the European Union dismissed their actions as time-barred.
Though the group had missed the two-month deadline for appealing a council decision, they claimed on appeal that the state of war in the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) constituted a force majeure that made timely filings impossible.
Late last year, Pedro Cruz Villalon, an advocate general for the EU Court of Justice, recommended allowing the late appeal. "Against a backdrop of civil war - or at least one of the greatest insecurity and confusion, in a territory where the effectiveness of a reasonably established public authority is not guaranteed," communication difficulties can prevent timely filings, he found.
Chucking this recommendation Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based high court found that Gbagbo and his associates received notice of the sanctions either directly or through its publication in official EU journals.
"Given that such notices are capable of enabling the persons concerned to identify the legal remedies available to them in order to challenge their designation in the lists concerned and the date when the period for bringing proceedings expires, it is important that the appellants should not be able to defer the starting point of the period for bringing proceedings by relying on the fact that there was no direct communication or that they actually became aware of the contested measures at a later date," the decision states. "If such a possibility were, in the absence of force majeure, open to the appellants, it would jeopardize the very objective of a time-limit for bringing proceedings, which is to protect legal certainty by ensuring that European Union measures which produce legal effects may not indefinitely be called into question."
The General Court mistakenly held that the clock on filing appeals began running when the EU Council published its decision, according to the ruling. It actually began when the notices were published, but the justices found that Gbagbo and his gang filed their appeals after the correct deadline as well.
Gbagbo's group also failed to present specific evidence that armed conflict in the Ivory Coast constituted force majeure and entitled them to extended deadlines, the court found.
"It is for the party concerned to establish first that abnormal circumstances, unforeseeable and outside his control, made it impossible for him to comply with the time limit for bringing proceedings laid down by EU law and secondly, that he could not guard against the consequences of those circumstances by taking appropriate steps without making unreasonable sacrifices," the justices wrote. "In this case, the appellants make general reference to there being in Côte d'Ivoire a situation of armed conflict, which according to them began in November 2010 and continued at least until April 2011. However, none of the appellants has presented in their appeals before the court any material which might enable the court to understand in what way and for what specific period of time the general situation of armed conflict in Côte d'Ivoire and the personal circumstances relied on by the appellants prevented them from bringing their actions in good time."
Meanwhile, Ivorians went to the polls again this weekend for local elections, the first since 2010 when Gbagbo's refusal to concede and subsequent propaganda war resulted in violence and 3,000 deaths. UPI reported that members of Gbagbo's Ivorian Front Party are boycotting the current elections.
A U.N. peacekeeper reported acts of intimidation and other "regrettable incidents" prior to voting, UPI said.
Gbagbo faces four counts of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. The ICC postponed hearings indefinitely, however, over concerns for the deposed leader's health.
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