Today Wednesday, March 31, the International Criminal Court will decide whether to acquit Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, the first head of state to stand trial at the tribunal.
The 75-year-old Gbagbo, together with his former youth leader Charles Ble Goude were cleared of crimes against humanity in 2019 over a wave of post-election violence in the West African nation more than 10 years ago.
The prosecution has appealed against the acquittal and wants a retrial over the bloodshed, which saw more than 3,000 people killed after Gbagbo disputed the results of the 2010 election.
He had refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the current president, but French troops eventually interfered, and Ouattara’s followers sent Gbagbo away from his bunker.
He was eventually sent to the ICC in The Hague the following year.
The judgment will be read out today at 3 pm (1300 GMT) by the Hague-based court’s appeals chamber, the ICC said.
The chamber is led by former ICC president Chile Eboe-Osuji and includes its current chief Piotr Hofmanski.
Gbagbo has been living in Brussels pending Wednesday’s decision but plans to go home if he gets acquitted.
According to an ICC spokesperson, it was not yet confirmed whether Gbagbo and Ble Goude would be in court for the ruling or attend via videolink because of coronavirus restrictions.
The verdict will be closely followed in Ivory Coast, where Gbagbo’s shadow still looms over a nation that remains rocked by political crisis.
Gbagbo was president from 2000 to 2010, a time of turmoil in the world’s top cocoa grower, formerly a haven of peace and prosperity in troubled West Africa.
Ouattara triggered fresh unrest last year when he announced he would run for a third term in office.
87 lives were lost in the violence while most of the opposition ignored the October ballot, which Ouattara won by a landslide.
After Ouattara offered to give Gbagbo passports to aid his return, Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party ended a years-long electoral boycott.
The ICC prosecution’s case against Gbagbo’s acquittal focuses on what it says was a procedural error when judges in 2019 did not make a properly written judgment but instead passed the decision orally.
Prosecution counsel Helen Brady told a hearing this was “no harmless procedural irregularity” but had “tarnished the very essence” of the decision.
The prosecution insisted it had presented key elements of proof with 4,610 documents and 96 witnesses interviewed during the trial.
The judgment is paramount for the credibility of the ICC after a series of high-profile failures and controversies.
Fatou Bensouda, the outgoing ICC prosecutor, suffered a series of setbacks, including the Gbagbo case and the acquittal on appeal of DR Congo’s former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba.
It should be recalled that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also saw charges of crimes against humanity over electoral bloodshed dropped by Bensouda.
Worthy of note is that the ICC is the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst offenses.
However, the tribunal has mostly dwelt on African suspects to date, while an inquiry into the Palestinian territories has enraged Israel and the United States.
The outgoing ICC prosecutor is also facing US sanctions following a probe into war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan.
In 2000, the US signed the treaty forming the ICC but had said it does not intend to ratify it.