International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have ruled that former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo should be released from the court’s detention center, but placed several conditions on his release.
In a summary of the unanimous decision, presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said the conditions will be imposed on Gbagbo and his co-accused, Charles Blé Goudé, upon their release to a state willing to accept them on its territory and willing to abide by the conditions of release. The judge did not state the conditions but said they were outlined in a written decision to be issued later in the evening.
The judges instructed the court’s Registry to enter into arrangements with states willing to accept the two accused. The judges stated that in the future they may vary the conditions of release at their own volition or upon application by the defense or the prosecution.
On January 15, Trial Chamber I acquitted Gbagbo and his former cabinet minister Charles Blé Goudé, after determining that there was no need for them to present their evidence since the prosecution had failed to satisfy the burden of proof in relation to several core elements of the case.
The next day, the trial chamber ordered their unconditional release. However, the prosecutor moved to the appeals chamber, where she argued that, were Gbagbo and Blé Goudé to be released, they could abscond from the court.
Subsequently, the appeals chamber ruled by a majority that Gbagbo and Blé Goudé would stay in detention while judges considered a prosecution appeal against their acquittal. They cited the prosecution submission that the two accused might abscond from the court if freed. However, in a dissenting opinion, judges Howard Morrison and Piotr Hofmanski argued that suspending an acquittal decision violates the accused’s fundamental right to liberty.
In court today, senior appeals lawyer Helen Brady said the prosecution would not oppose the duo’s release if judges imposed a series of conditions on them to ensure their attendance at future proceedings and to protect the integrity of future proceedings.
Under Rule 119 of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, judges may set one or more conditions restricting the liberty of an accused person. These include restrictions on movement, barring contacts with certain individuals, requiring the accused to reside at a particular address, and surrender of their passport to the court.
The conditions which the prosecution suggested include release to a country in Europe near The Hague to facilitate their continued attendance at trial, requiring them to provide their addresses and contact information, not moving from these addresses or to other countries without court’s authorization, and surrender of their passports.
Furthermore, the prosecution asked judges to order the accused not to make any contact with any prosecution witnesses or anybody interviewed in ongoing investigations in Ivory Coast, and not to make any public statements concerning the case.
Emmanuel Altit, who represents Gbagbo, said at today’s hearing that there was no legal basis for an acquitted person’s freedom to be limited where exceptional circumstances do not exist. He added that Rule 119 does not apply to an acquitted person who has been set free. “Acquittal means that he automatically recovers all his rights … because he is innocent,” he said. “Freedom has to be complete otherwise there’s no freedom.”
Similarly, Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops, who represents Blé Goudé, argued that under the court’s rules, an acquitted person cannot be kept in provisional release. He added, however, that if the defense were to choose between “two evils” it would pick conditional release over continued detention. He said any release conditions should be minimal.
The defense opposed has contended in its filings that the prosecution failed to prove a concrete risk that the accused would abscond.
Gbagbo has been in ICC detention for seven years and two months, having been transferred to The Hague in November 2011. His trial for four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and persecution, commenced in January 2016 and saw the prosecution call 82 witnesses, the last of whom testified last January.