Former president Gbabgo could return to Ivory Coast after ICC upholds acquittal

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday upheld its 2019 acquittal of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo on charges of crimes against humanity during post-election violence and ordered all conditions of his release be removed.

The decision may open the way for Gbagbo, 75, who has been living in Belgium, to return to Ivory Coast. A group of around 20 supporters were awaiting his departure from the courtroom in The Hague. Others danced and sang in Abidjan.

Gbagbo served as president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011 after his refusal to concede electoral defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara. The civil war that followed killed 3,000 people.

Prosecutors had argued that grave errors were made by trial judges at the international court, who ruled in 2019 that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to prove their case against Gbagbo and co-accused Charles Ble Goude, a former youth leader.

That trial acquitted both men on charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in the bloodshed in 2010-2011.

“The appeals chamber, by majority, has found no error that could have materially affected the decision of the trial chamber,” said Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, reading the panel’s ruling.

Issiaka Diaby, the president of an association for victims of the civil war, said: “We are against this decision of the ICC because the victims were forgotten.”

Supporters in the strongly pro-Gbagbo Yopougon district of Abidjan danced and sang Gbagbo’s name and passing taxis tooted their horns.

Supporter Nadege Kobenan, a merchant at a market, said she was happy the court had “recognised that they are innocent”.

“What I ask of Gbagbo and … Ble Goude is to forgive, forgive and forgive again. The country needs to live in peace and put vengeance behind it.”

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