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Laurent Gbagbo And The Politics Of International Justice.

April 13, 2021

By Chief Charles Taku*

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands January 2019.Photo credit ICC

The judgment of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court confirming the acquittal of the former President of Cote D’Ivoire and his former cabinet Minister Charles Goude Ble brings to public attention, once more, the intensity of the problem facing the Court more than two decades after it was created. The acquittal clarifies the debate which I helped to jumpstart, about the unfair and unwarranted exclusive focus on Africa by the ICC Prosecutor.

 From inception, this charge was dismissed with reckless arrogance by persons who miscomprehended the original objectives of the Rome Statute which I strongly support, to be an instrument for settling political scores. Others misconstrued my concerns and criticism for support of perpetrators of atrocity crimes on the continent of Africa.  This was inaccurate. I admitted at every opportunity that atrocity crimes are committed in Africa and that the perpetrators must be held accountable. My participation for over two decades in all international courts  and tribunals contributing with my peers from all parts of the world, Africa in particular,  in the search for international justice and the respect for the international rule of law, attests to my commitment towards accountability for international crimes.

The acquittal of President Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Goude Ble, present an opportunity once more, for the ICC to bring about the reforms which a majority of the State Parties of the Rome State and international justice seekers in Africa and the rest of the world are seeking.  Here are the reasons.  The ICC intervention in political conflicts which escalated into violence and atrocity crimes in Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya and Libya were perceived to be politically motivated. This criticism was validated by the high-profile public statements made by media frenzied Moreno Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC at the time. He has since he left office, publicly admitted this fact, at least on the situation in Kenya.

President Alassane Ouattara pictured in the center says Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude are free to return to Ivory Coast after their acquittal at the ICC.Photo courtesy

The Gbagbo trial and acquittal on a no-case submission confirmed on appeal, shows that this case should never have been brought to trial in an international criminal court or any other court.  This followed the familiar path of the Kenyan cases which were either poorly investigated or should never have been brought to trial. This is one of the reasons why I expressed public concerns about the ICC intervention and its case selection.  Should the ICC Chief Prosecutor intervene in African situations where atrocity crimes are committed? The answer indeed is yes. Why then criticise ICC interventions when they occur to confront impunity in the continent of Africa?  The answer is that, the intervention is warranted provided it is not done to satisfy neo-colonial and neo-economic imperialism of super powers from the west and the east and former colonial powers who are still ruling the continent through proxies and stooges. These are the special interests that are behind many of the conflicts in Africa and who have been influencing ICC case selections in Africa in ways which have failed to comprehensively take the interest of victims into consideration. 

The ICC intervention in disputed political conflicts in Africa, provided the opportunity for neo-colonial stooges in power or in search of power, to directly or indirectly manipulate the ICC case selection processes to engineer the removal of their political opponents and through the process, resolve their political problems. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Goude Ble were victims of this manipulation, which I called from inception, international political justice. The reason for this political label is that despite public assurances, the authorities of Cote D’Ivoire which took over power without any form of democratic process, after the arrest of President Gbagbo, failed to co-operate with the ICC once the Prosecutor evinced an interest to look in their direction.  The result is that the ICC intervention in Cote d’Ívoire and the prosecution of President Laurent Gbagbo was victor’s justice.   It raised the hopes and expectations of victims on the side of victors which with this acquittal have not been realised and victims on the side of President Gbagbo who were abandoned to their fate. In this regard, the Gbagbo ICC prosecution divided Cote  D ‘Ivoire and laid the ground for future conflicts.

Mr Laurent Gbagbo and Mr Charles Blé Goudé in Courtroom at the ICC. Their acquittal was hailed across Africa. Photo credit ICC

 Does the acquittal of President Gbagbo mean crimes were not committed in Cote D’Ivoire?  The answer is no. Crimes indeed were committed in Cote D Ívoire and the victims on all sides were entitled to justice.  The acquittals establishes that the ICC Prosecutor took the wrong persons to the Hague. This has caused significant injustice not just to the acquitted but all the victims and people of Cote d’Ivoire.  The prosecution while it lasted, helped the perpetrators of the atrocity crimes who should have been brought to justice, to strengthen their hold on power, whitewash their crimes, embolden impunity and the tyranny of power. This is a grave injustice done that was done to the people using the ICC prosecution. It had to speculate whether this is what the ICC prosecution bargained for or it fell into a neo-colonial entrapment and realised late while the results began to show, like these acquittals, in Cote D’Ivoire and Kenya? Or it was complicit in the ploy?  I am not able to answer with certainty. The results speak for themselves.

Lest we forget, the acquittals are not a setback for the Rome Statute and its founding objectives per se. We do not measure the success rate of a court by acquittals and convictions. An acquittal or conviction are vectors of justice which must be celebrated when justice is done and seen to be done. So, was justice done by the acquittal of President Gbagbo and Charles Goude Ble? The answer is undisputable in the positive There is an injustice when innocent people are prosecuted and spend almost a decade of their lives in detention far from home for crimes they did not commit and without compensation. The injustice lies in the perceived selective political profiling of the acquitted  President Gbagbo and Charles Goude Ble and the harm caused using the mechanism of international justice.

This case brings into sharp focus the criticism of the ICC for its exclusive focus on Africa for over two decades of the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute intended the Court it established to represent the face of the universe which it was supposed to serve.  The exclusive focus on Africa by the Court has not been compensated by the employment of persons of African origin in the Court or their involvement in the investigations and prosecutions. The citizens of the countries which have opposed ICC interventions outside Africa and in their own backyards have been the ones making decisions on Africa in the Court. This is indeed, unfortunate. 

Chief Charles Taku has consistently raised questions about the unfair and unwarranted exclusive focus on Africa by the ICC Prosecutor

While Fatou Bensouda came with a determination to look beyond Africa, she is leaving after her 9-year tenure without bringing a single charge against a non-African from other parts of the world or involved in African crimes. The minerals- for-arms merchants, land grabbers, mercenaries, economic predators who are sponsoring to engineering atrocity crimes in Africa, appear to be immune from accountability. Neo-economic imperialists and neo-colonial interests that contributed to bringing Gbagbo to the ICC should be worried because even if Gbagbo does not make a comeback to power, he will greatly influence the political destiny of his country and that of progress forces in Africa for the foreseeable future. The acquittal has elevated his profile to that of a living political legend. The ferocity with which he opposed the lingering ghost of colonialism under Houphouet- Boigny, and his political offspring, will be intensified. Cote d’Ivoire and Africa will honour him as a hero. The progressive youth will be inspired and emboldened to pursue the fight for justice and the political and economic emancipation of a truly independent Africa, thanks to the resilience of Laurent Gbagbo.

 * *Culled from April Issue of PAV Magazine.Chief Charles Taku is an International Lawyer and a former President of the International Criminal Court Bar Association- ICCBA.

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