THE HAGUE, 1 April 2021 – Appeal judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague on Wednesday upheld acquittals of former Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo and former minister Charles Ble Goude.
Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said the panel of judges “rejects the prosecutors’ appeal and confirms the decision of the Trial Chamber.”
The initial acquittals for both leaders were handed down in 2019, clearing them of responsibility for crimes including rape, murder, and political persecution following the 2010 disputed elections in Cote d’Ivoire.
The panel of judges said prosecutors failed to prove that the two were responsible for the crimes for which they were charged, ending all proceedings against them.
More than 3,000 people were killed after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by his rival, current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.
“The appeals chamber hereby revokes all remaining conditions on the release of Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ble Goude as a result of this judgment,” the presiding judge added.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude were released from detention after the initial acquittal but were present in court for Wednesday’s session.
“Gbagbo est libre!” [Gbagbo is free!] one woman chanted outside the courthouse after the decision was announced, waving an Ivorian flag.
Defense lawyers did not even have to present their evidence.
On Twitter, the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she respected the decision.
“We will take the time necessary to review & carefully analyze the judgment & its dissenting & separate opinions in detail so that we fully appreciate its rationale & import for our work,” Fatou Bensouda wrote.
“I’m an acquitted person now definitely speaking. I thank all the people of Ivory Coast and Africa for their support,” Ble Goude said as he left the court.
“I hope authorities in Cote d’Ivoire will accept the judgment and will let (Ble Goude) into the country. He wants to return after seven years,” said Goude’s lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops.
News reports said Gbagbo left the court without speaking to the media, but his wife, Simone Gbagbo, was overjoyed by the court’s decision.
He said he intends to request.
“Now that he is released, he must return home,” she said from Abidjan. “The government must charter a plane to pick him up. I am counting on the government to do so”.
Amnesty International said victims of the crimes “will be disappointed again today”.
The acquittal means that the ICC “has held no one responsible for atrocity crimes committed during this period,” said Michele Eken, the West Africa Researcher at Amnesty International.
The president of an association representing victims blamed the ICC prosecutor for failing to get justice for the families.
This acquittal is “a real shame,” said Issiaka Diaby.
“There were 3,000 deaths and there are no culprits. It is a serious matter that this international institution of justice worked for eight years and was not able to put a name and a face to these victims,” Diaby said.
He said victims of the crimes were now also “victims of the incompetence of the prosecutor’s office”.
Prosecutors appealed the 2019 ruling, saying the decision to acquit was wrong and asking appeals judges to declare a mistrial, but the appeals panel rejected all their arguments.