I.Coast's Gbagbo handed over to world court

30th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to the International Criminal Court Wednesday to face charges of rape and murder, becoming the first former head of state to stand before the tribunal.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo vowed Gbagbo's transfer was "just the beginning" but the deposed leader's spokesman denounced an international cabal and lop-sided justice.

Global human rights groups warned a prosecution that only focused on crimes committed by forces loyal to Gbagbo and not his rival Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara would lead to an "explosive situation on the ground."

Gbagbo, 66, was remanded in custody early Wednesday after being flown to the Netherlands on a chartered flight as the first person to be brought to account for post-election violence that killed 3,000 people since last year.

He had been under arrest since April, when troops loyal to Ouattara and backed by UN and French forces stormed his residence in Abidjan after he refused for five months to give up power following an election defeat.

"Gbagbo allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts," the ICC said in a statement.

The crimes were allegedly committed between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011, after Gbagbo refused to recognise Ouattara's election victory.

"This is the first case in the Cote d'Ivoire. It would not be the last case. This is just the beginning," Moreno-Ocampo told AFP in an interview by phone.

"Ivorian victims will see justice for massive crimes," he added.

Gbagbo's first appearance is to be held "promptly", the ICC said. His identity will be confirmed, the charges against him and his rights will be read out.

Ivory Coast's new rulers had been pressing for weeks to have him transferred to The Hague and the move comes less than two weeks before December 11 legislative elections in the former French colony.

For months, since his arrest in Abidjan on April 11, Gbagbo had been held in Korhogo, in the north of the country, as Ivorian investigators built a case centred around other lesser charges against him.

At home, he faces charges for "economic crimes" allegedly committed during the political crisis and ensuing conflict.

But the ICC had launched its own investigation.

Last month, its judges allowed Moreno-Ocampo to probe alleged post-election war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both forces loyal to Gbagbo and also to those loyal to President Ouattara.

During a visit to Abidjan on October 15, the prosecutor promised an "impartial investigation" aimed at "three to six people."

Gbagbo's supporters seethed with fury Wednesday.

"What we are seeing today is the triumph of corruption, dirty dealing and shady connections to the detriment of the state," Gbagbo's spokesman Justin Kone Katina told AFP by phone from his Ghanaian exile.

He called Moreno-Ocampo a "scheming puppet... who allows himself to be manipulated by interests that are far removed from any sense of justice."

Charles Ble Goude, who fled Ivory Coast after Gbagbo's downfall and is wanted for trial by the new leadership, slammed a plot which he said had been hatched in 2002, when a coup attempt left the country divided.

In Ivory Coast the leaders of three small pro-Gbagbo parties announced they were pulling out of the December vote in protest at the transfer, which they argued would hamper national reconciliation.

The government spokesman in Abidjan hailed the move and argued Gbagbo's trial would give the country closure.

"This transfer is a blessing for the country," Bruno Kone told AFP. "It is one of the keys to turning the page on a sad episode in Ivory Coast's history."

He said the ICC could not be expected to implement "victors' justice".

If the ICC "believes that persons close to President Alassane Ouattara are involved, then a similar procedure will be implemented," he said.

Francis Dako, the African coordinator at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, urged the ICC to not only prosecute Gbagbo, but also those in Ouattara's camp suspected of crimes.

"A decision to go after the defeated president alone at this point is likely to be explosive on the ground," Dako said in a statement, as international justice experts say Gbagbo's transfer came at a convenient time for the prosecutor, in the twilight of his tenure at the ICC.

The ICC's six other investigations also relate to crimes committed in Africa, with targets including current Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Gbagbo however is not the first former head of state to be brought to The Hague to face international justice.

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor is currently awaiting judgement before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, accused of arming the west African country's rebels who in return allegedly paid him in blood diamonds.

The late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack in his detention cell in 2006 during his genocide trial before the former Yugoslavian war crimes court.

© 2011 AFP

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