I.Coast's Gbagbo to face ICC judges

3rd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo will face the world war crimes court for the first time Monday, for his role in the deadly aftermath of disputed polls last year in which some 3,000 people died.

Transferred to the Netherlands last Wednesday, Gbagbo, 66, is set to make his initial appearance at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) before the judges of the International Criminal Court, where he faces four counts of crimes against humanity.

At the hearing, the judges will verify his identity and the charges, as well as his rights under the court's founding Rome Statute, will be read out.

Presiding Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi will then set a date for a hearing to confirm charges against the man who stood at the Ivory Coast's helm for a decade and who refused to admit defeat following a second round of votes in November 28 polls last year.

At that next hearing, not expected for several months, prosecutors must convince judges there is enough evidence to take him to trial.

Facing four counts namely murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts committed by forces loyal to him between 16 December 2010 and 12 April, Gbagbo is now behind bars at ICC's detention unit in The Hague.

The court issued a sealed arrest warrant against him on November 23 for his part in the post-poll crisis which was sparked by his refusal to step down in favour of his opponent, now Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

Reactions to news of his arrest have been varied this week.

Gbagbo's former ruling FPI party said the transfer amounted to a "political kidnapping" and announced it was suspending its participation "in all reconciliation processes".

But a government spokesman in Abidjan hailed the move, arguing that Gbagbo's trial would give the country closure.

Global human rights groups warned any prosecution focused only on crimes committed by forces loyal to Gbagbo and not those of Ouattara's camp, would lead to an "explosive situation on the ground".

During a visit to Abidjan on October 15, the ICC's chief prosecutor promised an "impartial investigation" aimed at "three to six people" who bore the greatest responsibility for crimes committed during the crisis.

ICC head Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Wednesday that Gbagbo was the first to be brought to account, but that "there is more to come."

When judges authorised the investigation earlier this year, they said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that Gbagbo's side hired some 4,500 mercenaries, including fighters from neighbouring Liberia, and armed them as well as attacking the United Nations's peace-keeping force in the Ivory Coast (UNOCI).

Troops loyal to Ouattara are suspected of attacking civilians in Abidjan and western Ivory Coast, particularly in the town of Duekoue.

Opening its doors in 2002, the ICC is the first permanent international criminal tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

© 2011 AFP

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