Former Ivory Coast president acquitted of war crimes
ICC orders release of Laurent Gbagbo who was charged over post-election violence in 2010
Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Photograph: Peter Dejong/ANP/AFP/Getty Images
The court in The Hague also acquitted the country’s former youth minister Charles Blé Goudé, saying prosecutors failed to prove their case.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser ordered the immediate release of the 73-year-old Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé (46), following the judgment midway through their trial. In custody for seven years after French troops flushed him out of a presidential bunker, Mr Gbagbo could be freed as soon as Wednesday.
Mr Gbagbo’s freedom and possible return home may shake up the 2020 presidential poll in francophone west Africa’s largest economy and the world’s biggest cocoa producer. President Alassane Ouattara’s camp has said he may reconsider a decision not to run if long-time rivals Mr Gbagbo and former president Henri Konan Bédié were to stand.
Mr Tarfusser said a majority of the three-judge chamber ruled that “the prosecutor has failed to satisfy the burden of proof” against both men.
Lawyers for Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé asked judges last year to acquit both men for lack of evidence at the end of the prosecution case in their trial that began just under three years ago.
Mr Tarfusser later suspended his order ahead of a follow-up hearing on Wednesday, when prosecutors are expected to announce whether they will appeal.
Mr Gbagbo was the first former president to go on trial at the global court and his case was seen as a milestone in efforts to bring to justice even the highest-ranking leaders accused of atrocities.
Mr Tarfusser said it was a matter of public record that Ivory Coast was wracked by post-election violence in 2010 and early 2011, but he said prosecutors did not present evidence that Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé formulated a common plan for their supporters to unleash violence.
More than 3,000 people were killed after Mr Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Mr Ouattara.
As Mr Tarfusser announced the acquittals, supporters of Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé stood up and cheered in the courtroom’s gallery.
The ruling was the latest defeat for prosecutors at the world’s first global war crimes court.
The case against Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who was also accused of involvement – before he became president – in post-election violence in his country, collapsed in December 2014.
Last year, a former Congolese vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was acquitted on appeal of crimes allegedly committed by his militia in neighbouring Central African Republic. – AP/Reuters