I.Coast's Gbagbo handed over to world court

1st December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo became the first former head of state Wednesday to be handed over to the International Criminal Court, where he will appear on murder and rape charges next week.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo vowed Gbagbo's transfer was "just the beginning" as the deposed leader's party denounced the move and said it was withdrawing from all national reconciliation efforts.

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

Ouattara said through a spokesman the transfer was proof that "nobody is above the law", and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said Gbagbo had only himself and his party's "absence of repentance and lack of humility" to blame.

Gbagbo, 66, was taken into the court's custody early Wednesday after being flown to the Netherlands on a chartered flight -- the first person to be brought to account for Ivory Coast's post-election violence that killed 3,000 people.

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.

"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 a phone interview.

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

Gbagbo will make his first appearance before ICC judges on Monday, where the charges against him, and his rights, will be read out.

The court, which issued a sealed warrant for his arrest on November 23, will then set the date for a hearing to confirm the charge sheet against him.

Ivory Coast's new rulers had been pressing for weeks to have Gbagbo 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 on "economic crimes" against him.

Last month, ICC judges gave Moreno-Ocampo the go-ahead to probe alleged post-election war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces.

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".

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

The leaders of three small pro-Gbagbo parties said they were pulling out of the December vote in protest at the transfer which they argued would hamper national reconciliation.

But a 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."

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

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," he said.

Soro accused Gbagbo's FPI party of rejecting Ouattara's "outstretched hand" by refusing to participate in the government and December elections.

Since his incarceration in Korhogo, Gbagbo "has taken no step to start dialogue with us", Soro added. "On the contrary, extremist words were used by advocates opposed to the normalisation" of the country.

© 2011 AFP

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