ICC Judges to Deliver Judgement on Gbagbo’s Acquittal

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges will announce tomorrow whether to discontinue the trial of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo and order his acquittal.

Gbagbo, 73, lost an election in 2010 to current president Alassane Ouattara and, following charges that he orchestrated post-election violence, he was arrested and transferred to the ICC in November 2011.

Together with his former minister for sports and youth affairs, Charles Blé Goudé, Gbagbo has been on trial for four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts (or, in the alternative, attempted murder). The crimes were allegedly committed during post-electoral violence in their home country between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

However, five months ago the two accused filed no case to answer motions, arguing that the prosecution had failed to produce sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. After hearing arguments by the defense and the prosecution at the end of last year, judges will tomorrow announce whether the trial should go ahead or the duo should be acquitted without being required to present their defense.

According to the defense, the prosecution’s case hinges on “the uncorroborated testimony of a few patently incredible witnesses, and an inordinate amount hearsay evidence” whose credibility and reliability judges are unable to evaluate.

At a hearing last October, deputy prosecutor James Stewart argued that the prosecution evidence was strong enough to sustain the case to the end of the trial stage. “The accused should be put upon their defense and this trial should proceed to its conclusion with a determination on the merits of their guilt or innocence,” he said.

Tomorrow, judges will also deliver a ruling on whether the two accused can be given interim release from the court’s detention. While ordering a hearing last month to hear submissions on possible interim release, judges noted that since the prosecution completed presenting its evidence last January, it was necessary to revisit whether there were any outstanding risks to the interim release under article 58(1) of the Rome Statute.

This article relates to detention of an individual to ensure the person’s appearance at trial; to prevent them from endangering an investigation or of court proceedings; or to prevent the person from continuing to commit crimes within the court’s jurisdiction.

However, Judge Herrera Carbuccia disagreed with fellow Trial Chamber I judges Cuno Tarfusser and Geoffrey Henderson over the chamber’s decision to review the detention at its own volition. In a dissenting opinion, she said at a critical juncture of the trial when a motion of acquittal is pending, and deliberations are on-going, conducting a hearing on interim release would risk issues related to the pending acquittal requests.

Last April, judges declined to offer Gbagbo interim release, noting that there was no indication that previously identified risks of his release had ceased to exist. They rejected defense pleadings that Gbagbo’s health had deteriorated and that he could die if were not released so he could get adequate treatment.

Citing a report of a court-appointed medical doctor, the judges determined that Gbagbo’s health was stable and that he was receiving optimal treatment for his state of health and age.