ICC Appeals Judges Deny Former Ivorian President Gbagbo Interim Release

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have rejected an application for interim release filed by former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, upholding an earlier finding that he still represents a flight risk.

In a September 8 ruling, judges determined that the Pre-trial Chamber was right in finding that there was a network of Gbagbo supporters that could aid his abscondment from court and that his continued detention was therefore necessary.

The Appeals Chamber said evidence submitted by the prosecutor, including an April 13, 2015 report of the United Nations Groups of Experts on Ivory Coast, plus calls for Gbagbo’s release by various actors, showed that the network of supporters continues to exist.

Gbagbo, who was president of the Ivory Coast between 2000 and April 2011, has been in ICC custody since November 2011. He was arrested following a civil war that resulted from his refusal to step down after losing an election in 2010. Prosecutors allege that between December 2010 and March 2011, Gbagbo and members of his inner circle ordered, solicited, or induced the commission of murder, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts. The crimes were reportedly committed in the Ivorian capital Abidjan.

Gbagbo is jointly charged with Charles Blé Goudé, a former youth minister in the Gbagbo regime, with fomenting the violence that engulfed the country after the disputed elections. Goudé was arrested in 2013 in Accra, Ghana, and was transferred to The Hague in 2014.

Although the ICC also issued arrest warrants for former first lady Simone Gbagbo in 2012, Ivorian authorities declined to hand her over, stating that they were trying her in national courts.  Last March, the Court of Justice in Abidjan sentenced her to 20 years in prison for undermining state security and other crimes. The ICC prosecution alleges that Simone Gbagbo bears individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhumane acts.

Under the ICC rules, the court conducts periodic reviews to determine whether an accused in detention can be offered interim release. The release is normally offered where there are changed circumstances to justify conditional release. Since 2012, Gbagbo has been petitioning judges for interim release, but prosecutors have argued―and judges have agreed―that due to the extended network of supporters that he still has, Gbagbo could abscond from justice once he is offered interim release.

In the latest decision of the Appeals Chamber, judges said the Gbagbo defense erroneously blamed the Pre-trial Chamber for failing to take into consideration a change of circumstances since the last review was conducted.

The defense asked judges to direct the prosecution to provide details on what the “pro-Gbagbo network” means and how it operates. Defense lawyers also stated that claims by Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) leaders and activists that they are Gbagbo’s followers does not suffice to criminalize the party. The FPI is the party Gbagbo led. Defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit also argued that the prosecutor failed to provide evidence that the people calling for Gbagbo’s release wished to help him abscond.

In their ruling, appeals judges determined that it was incorrect to claim that Gbagbo was precluded from challenging the conditions justifying his continued detention. “The Appeals Chamber notes, however, that in challenging the conditions justifying detention, it is not enough to merely allege changed circumstances based solely on arguments that have already been determined to be of no relevance,” they added.

The opening of Gbagbo’s trial is scheduled for November 10, 2015.