The acquittals of the former rulers of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, are a new setback for the International Criminal Court and a mockery for the victims, says Dirke Köpp.

For the victims of the political crisis in Ivory Coast, it is almost eight years lost. So long ago, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and his former Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé have been arrested. A short time later, the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICTY) in The Hague were investigating allegations of grave human rights crimes.

A quick review: After the election in Ivory Coast at the end of 2010, the country suddenly had two presidents: Laurent Gbagbo, who had ruled the country thanks to multiple electoral deferrals from 2000 to 2010, and Alassane Ouattara, a longtime opposition politician. Ouattara was the legitimate winner of the presidential election for the United Nations, the EU and former colonial power France, but Gbagbo was sworn in anyway. Around 3000 casualties demanded the months-long power struggle. At the end, Laurent Gbagbo was arrested and transferred to the IStGh several months later, and four years later the trial began.

Abrupt acquittals

The trial lasted three years before the ICC – before it ended abruptly with two acquittals. Despite numerous testimonies, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her colleagues failed to prove to the judges that there was a “common plan” to keep Laurent Gbagbo in power. A plan that would have accepted or even ordered the deaths of civilians.

Dirke Köpp Comment Image App
Dirke Köpp heads the editorial office French for Africa

It is a well-known scenario: Gbagbo is the third high-ranking African politician to whom the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court can not prove guilty. Back in 2014, there was a lack of evidence of blame for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyattaof the 1300 dead and 600,000 refugees following the 2007 Kenyan elections. The charges against Kenyatta were subsequently dropped. The same thing happened in the case of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto. The crimes that Kenyatta and Ruto were charged with were in many ways similar to those accused of Laurent Gbagbo. In 2018, former Congolese militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was acquitted of not being able to prove to him that it was his orders that led the militia in the Central African Republic to murder, burn and torture people. Sudan’s ruler Omar al-Bashir can not even be brought to justice because he evades arrest.

That makes you angry. And it raises questions: are the prosecutors working so sloppily that a conviction is prevented? Or are the high-ranking politicians involved so well connected that it is impossible to take evidence? In the case of Kenyatta and Bemba, it is known that witnesses were intimidated and bribed. Bemba was even convicted for that.

Water on the mills of the critics

These setbacks are water on the mills of the critics of the ICC. Especially in Africa there are many for whom the court is just another instrument of the international community to weaken Africa. It is not to be denied that in the political crises in Africa (but of course elsewhere), it is always the civilians who suffer the most. Also by Siegerjustiz is the critics talk. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the role of today’s President Alassane Ouattara and his followers – or should we say henchmen? – not examined at all. They may not have been as innocent of escalating the crisis as they look.

In the case of Gbagbo / Blé Goudé, the prosecution can still appeal against the acquittals. But why should she find the evidence she has not been able to provide in recent years?

The victims are in any case the victims of the political crisis in Ivory Coast (and in Kenya, the Central African Republic, Sudan) – there is no legal justice for them. It is almost as if the dead were not the result of human will and human ruthlessness, but the inevitable consequences of a sudden onset of natural disaster: no one will be held accountable, though the number of victims and the damage are huge. May that be true?

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