Posted On: Sat 02 Feb 2019 By TCR NEWS | AFP
First former head of state ever to stand trial at the ICC spent seven years in custody in The Hague.
The international criminal court has freed the former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo after his shock acquittal in January on charges of crimes against humanity.
Supporters sang and waved flags in The Hague after judges decided to release the 73-year-old on condition that he stays in an as-yet-unnamed country pending an appeal by the prosecution.
Gbagbo, the first former head of state ever to stand trial at the ICC, and his aide Charles Ble Goude were cleared on 15 January over a wave of violence after disputed elections in the west African nation in 2010.
More than 3,000 people died on both sides after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to his internationally backed-rival – and now president – Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude were accused of playing a role in murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts during the post-electoral violence.
ICC appeals judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said the court would release Gbagbo “to a state willing to accept them on its territory and willing to enforce the conditions set” by the court.
The court later said that Gbagbo and Ble Goude had been released from the ICC’s detention centre in The Hague where he spent seven years for an “interim” location while his final destination was confirmed, without giving further details.
“We are very happy for Mr Ble Goude and his family that he is finally released,” Ble Goude’s lawyer Alexander Knoops told reporters. “He was under huge stress.”
One country – whose name was redacted in court documents – had “expressed its willingness to receive Mr Gbagbo” on condition that he signs a pledge to return to court if asked.
Prosecutors had expressed fears that if released, Gbagbo would fail to return to the court for a retrial if January’s acquittal was overturned on appeal.
He also had to surrender his travel documents, report weekly, avoid contacting witnesses in Ivory Coast and refrain from making public statements about the case, the court documents said.
Lawyers have previously cited the arrangement reached with former Democratic Republic of the Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, who went to Belgium after he was cleared by the ICC last year.
While Ivory Coast is an ICC member state, the court may be unwilling to send Gbagbo to his homeland given that it has refused to surrender Gbagbo’s wife Simone despite an outstanding ICC warrant for her arrest.
Dozens of Gbagbo supporters broke out in song, waving Ivorian flags and chanting slogans like “Gbagbo is free!” and “Respect Gbagbo power!” They were watched by around 20 Dutch police officers.
Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that she was waiting to “carefully examine” January’s acquittal ruling before deciding whether to challenge it.
The Gbagbo acquittal was a severe blow for ICC prosecutors after similar failures with Bemba last year and Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014.