The former president of Ivory Coast is to be released and the charges against him of crimes against humanity dropped after the international criminal court ruled that he had no case to answer.
The court in The Hague acquitted Laurent Gbagbo and his former youth minister of all charges and ordered their immediate release.
The charges, which included ordering murder and gang rape, related to post-election violence in the west African country in 2011.
Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the current president, and about 3,000 people died in the aftermath. Eventually, after French troops and the UN intervened, Gbagbo was prised out of the bunker where he was hiding with his wife, Simone Gbagbo.
The judges ruled that Gbagbo and his then youth minister, Blé Goudé, had no plan to keep Gbagbo in power, and so there was “no need for defence to submit further defence, as the prosecutor has not satisfied the burden of proof”.
The decision will be a severe blow for the ICC prosecutor, for whom it was a landmark case. The court will resume on Wednesday, where the prosecution will say whether they want to appeal, and if they do, what conditions they want to impose on Gbagbo’s release.
The ICC has been accused of being one-sided as it did not bring any charges against pro-Ouattara commanders who were also accused of abuses.
There has been little justice for the victims of the post-electoral violence: although Ivorian judges investigated many of the crimes and charged military and political officials from both sides, last year Ouattara announced a controversial amnesty for almost all of them.
A former university professor turned activist, Gbagbo spent much of the 1980s in exile in France. After returning, he lost the 1990 presidential vote and spent six months in prison in 1992 for his role in student protests.
He came to power in 2000 in a flawed vote that he himself described as “calamitous”, but he then put off holding another election for a decade. In the 2010 race, Gbagbo came top in the first round with 38% of the vote before losing to Ouattara in the runoff.
Ouattara, who was re-elected in 2015, has been accused by his opponents of using the ICC to silence opposition.
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