Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is to go on trial at the International Criminal Court, judges said on Thursday after deciding prosecutors had submitted enough evidence to justify pursuing the case.
Gbagbo, who is accused of plunging his country into a civil war rather than relinquish his grip on power after losing the presidential election in 2010, faces charges of crimes against humanity in relation to the violence, which killed 3,000 people.
In the 131-page ruling, judges found there were “substantial grounds to believe” Gbagbo was criminally responsible for the crimes committed during the violence, singling out supporters of his political rival Alassane Ouattara for “systematic attack”.
Prosecutors say he devised a plan with co-conspirators including his wife Simone, who remains in prison in Ivory Coast, and youth leader Charles Ble Goude, who is in the ICC’s custody, to stoke the violence and profit from it.
Lawyers for Gbagbo and Ble Goude say President Ouattara is using the court as a political tool to get rid of his enemies when convenient. They have criticised prosecutors for bringing cases only against Gbagbo and his allies.
The decision to commit Gbagbo for trial is a success for the court’s prosecutors, who have been criticised for building weak cases based on unreliable testimony that have been thrown out before reaching trial.
The court, set up a decade ago to try those accused of the worst international crimes, has been criticised for slow justice after handing down just three verdicts over its first decade.
New York-based Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision to allow Gbagbo’s trial to go ahead, which it said would “remind those in positions of power that they are not immune from justice”.
Gbagbo has been in custody since 2011, when Ouattara handed him over to the Hague-based court. Gbagbo could face a maximum prison term of life imprisonment if convicted. No trial date has yet been set.