The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor vowed on Wednesday to “leave no stone unturned” in investigating alleged crimes committed by all sides in Ivory Coast’s brief 2010 civil war, including by supporters of President Alassane Ouattara.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was speaking a day before Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo was due to go on trial in The Hague on charges of unleashing the civil war, in which 3,000 people died, after refusing to accept his election defeat.
Gbagbo is the most senior politician to stand trial at the global war crimes tribunal since it was set up 13 years ago. He remains influential at home and his trial could rekindle tensions in Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa grower.
However, his supporters and many victims of the 2010 clashes have accused the prosecutors of being selective and of mainly targeting the Gbagbo camp, criticism that Bensouda rejected.
Prosecutors ramped up their investigations last year after an increase in funding, Bensouda told reporters, adding she could give no details on the status of the confidential probes.
“My office will leave no stone unturned as we move to ensure justice and accountability on all sides,” she said. “We started in 2015. We intensified investigations into the pro-Ouattara camp and it is ongoing.”
Ouattara, who won the election, took office after a military intervention by former colonial power France ended the four-month civil war.
KEY TEST FOR ICC
The Gbagbo trial is a test for the ICC, seen in much of Africa as a European-backed neo-colonial institution. Its last attempt to try an African president, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, failed amid diplomatic lobbying and allegations of witness intimidation.
Gbagbo, 70, and his co-accused, youth leader Charles Ble Goude, 44, face four counts relating to an alleged campaign of rape and murder aimed at hanging onto power. Both men deny the charges, which carry maximum sentences of life imprisonment.
Ouattara, who was re-elected last year, is accused by his opponents of using the ICC to silence opposition. Gbagbo and Ble Goude – known as the “general of the streets” – were handed over to The Hague after the ICC issued arrest warrants.
During his four years in the ICC’s jail in The Hague, Gbagbo worked with a French journalist, Francois Mattei, on a book published last year that depicts his prosecution as punishment for standing up to France.
Gbagbo’s wife Simone, also wanted by the ICC, was sentenced to 20 years’ jail by an Ivory Coast court.
The ICC has so far convicted just two little-known Congolese warlords.
Gbagbo’s trial will be closely watched for evidence that it can successfully tackle higher-profile cases.Reuters