The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday confirmed by majority Trial Chamber I’s acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé of all four counts of crimes against humanity. Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s former president, and former minister Blé Goudé, had faced the charges for their alleged role in post-election violence in the country from 2010 to 2011.
Gbagbo served as president from 2000 until 2011, when he was arrested after declining transition of power to President Alassane Ouattara following the 2010 election. It was reported that more than 3,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence. Gbagbo was sent to ICC custody in 2011, and Blé Goudé in 2014. The cases were joined in 2015.
The Trial Chamber’s January 2019 decision to acquit the pair came as a result of the majority finding that the evidence submitted by the prosecution was lacking. This decision was followed by a written judgment in July of that year. In September of the same year, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda appealed the acquittal and sought a declaration of mistrial.
The grounds of Bensouda’s appeal were “that the Trial Chamber’s decision to acquit Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé (i) had violated statutory requirements and (ii) was taken without properly articulating and consistently applying a clearly defined standard of proof and its approach to assessing the sufficiency of the evidence.”
On the first point, the Appeals Chamber majority found that a delay in the issuance of the reasons for a decision “cannot necessarily invalidate an entire trial process,” as there may be clear justification for the delay, based on the circumstances of the case. The majority also rejected the second point, noting that the Trial Chamber judges who had constituted the majority found the evidence against the pair to be “exceptionally weak.”
However, the two dissenting Appeals Chamber judges, Judge Luz Del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza and Judge Solome Bossa, were of the view that the Trial Chamber decision was “materially affected by serious errors.” Judge Ibáñez said that either of the two grounds should have been granted, as the majority judges’ difference of opinion on both the grounds constituted “errors of law and procedure that materially affected, and vitiated, the impugned decision.”
Following the announcement of the decision, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda tweeted, “I seize the occasion to reaffirm that our independent & objective investigations in Côte d’Ivoire continue into alleged crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction.”
Michèle Eken, Amnesty International West Africa Researcher, said, “Victims of the 2010-2011 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire will be disappointed again today as the ICC’s Appeals Chamber confirms the acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé, meaning the court has held no one responsible for atrocity crimes committed during this period.”
All conditions on the pair’s release were removed and the case is now closed.