Thursday, January 28, 2016

AU Urges ICC to Respect the Immunity of Sitting African Presidents
Elvis Boh

The African Union, AU, is following with keen interest, the trial of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court.

The AU Political Affairs Commission reiterated the stands of the body concerning the ICC during a press conference on Thursday in Addis Ababa.

“The African Union as the Union of African people does not condone impunity. President Kenyatta and President Omar Al Bashir- are serving sitting presidents that enjoy immunity. Presidents should be respected so long as they are serving.” Julia Dolly Joiner, AU commissioner for political affairs said.

The Ivorian Minister of Foreign Affairs said the ICC verdict on the case is highly expected , adding the government is following all the developments keenly.

“We have had 10 years of difficulty in Ivory Coast. We are working on the reconciliation process. All of this must be consolidated on the basis of justice,” Albert Toikeusse Mabri, Ivorian minister of foreign affairs told Antoine Galindo, Africanews correspondent in Ethiopia .

Laurent Gbagbo is being tried alongside youth leader Charles Blé Goude. They are standing trial for their alleged roles in the post electoral violence in 2011 which led to the death of nearly 3000 people.

Ivory Coast ex-leader, on trial at ICC, retains support at home

Wed, Jan 27 7:52 AM PST

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Dozens of Ivory Coast politicians, including ex-ministers and diplomats, gathered in a hotel conference room here this week to honor a man widely blamed for his country's descent into months of grisly killings and sexual violence five years ago.

The event organized by supporters of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo was intended to burnish his image before his trial on crimes against humanity charges opens Thursday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The first former head of state to be tried by the court, Gbagbo lost Ivory Coast's 2010 presidential runoff to Alassane Ouattara but refused to step down, sparking violence that killed more than 3,000 people. Prosecutors say he bears responsibility for murder, rape and other crimes carried out by those fighting to keep him in office. He is standing trial alongside Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo's former youth minister accused of inciting violence against Ouattara supporters.

Despite the charges against him, Gbagbo's followers hail him as a Nelson Mandela-like hero persecuted for his struggle to make Ivory Coast truly democratic and sovereign.

At Tuesday's round table — where attendees heard speeches extolling his virtues and perused pro-Gbagbo literature, including a book based on interviews conducted with a French journalist from his Hague cell — the Gbagbo faithful expressed optimism that the case against him would fall apart. Just as he survived a stint behind bars during his days as an opposition leader, they said, so would he emerge from the ICC unscathed.

"In his life, he has really suffered, but each time he got back on his feet," said Aboudramane Sangare, a Gbagbo-era foreign minister. "I'm sure this time he will be able to rebound again."

A former university professor who founded an opposition party well before Ivory Coast embraced multiparty democracy, Gbagbo spent much of the 1980s in exile in France. After returning, he lost the 1990 presidential vote and spent six months in jail in 1992 for his role in student protests. He came to power in 2000 in a flawed vote he himself described as "calamitous," though he put off holding another one for a decade. In the 2010 race, Gbagbo placed first in the first round with 38 percent of the vote before losing to Ouattara in the runoff.

These days, it is difficult to quantify Gbagbo's support. In last October's presidential vote, with Gbagbo in custody and a hard-line faction of his party calling for a boycott, Ouattara cruised to a second five-year term.

But Gbagbo clearly retains a following. His more fervent backers maintain that he won the 2010 runoff, that there is no evidence linking him to the violence that followed and that, if anything, he was merely defending himself against pro-Ouattara fighters.

Agenor Youan Bi, president of a pro-Gbagbo organization in Abidjan's sprawling, working-class Yopougon district, said he expects hundreds if not thousands of supporters to show up at an events hall Thursday for a screening of the trial's first day.

He doubts, though, that the ICC will give Gbagbo a fair hearing, accusing it of victor's justice. Rights groups documented abuses on both sides of the post-election conflict, but so far the ICC has only pursued Gbagbo, Ble Goude and Gbagbo's wife Simone. Within Ivory Coast, too, justice for post-election violence crimes has been one-sided against Gbagbo's allies.

Even those who deplore the decisions that led Ivory Coast into conflict find something to admire. Karamoko Issif, a 22-year-old accounting intern in Abidjan, said he became a Gbagbo fan by watching clips of his speeches on his mobile phone and reading pro-Gbagbo newspapers. Though he believes all politicians — including Gbagbo — share blame for the post-election crisis, he said he respects Gbagbo's reputation for standing up to colonial power France.

Issif said justice should be administered more fairly, starting with charges for crimes committed by pro-Ouattara fighters.

"If Gbagbo is guilty," he said, "everyone is guilty."

Trial opens for Ivory Coast soldiers accused of killing ex-president

By Ange Aboa, Reuters
Tue, Jan 26 10:22 PM PST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A military tribunal in Ivory Coast began hearing testimony on Tuesday in the trial of nearly two dozen soldiers charged with the 2002 murder of a former junta leader turned president, Robert Guei.

Ivory Coast, the current economic powerhouse of Francophone West Africa, has been attempting a reconciliation process after more than a decade of political turmoil in the formerly peaceful West African nation.

Guei was a retired army general when he was named head of state after a coup d'etat in 1999 that marked the beginning of the crisis.

He lost an election to Laurent Gbagbo a year later. He had been out of office for nearly two years when his bullet-riddled body was discovered on a roadside in the commercial capital, Abidjan, during a second attempted coup in 2002.

A total of 22 soldiers, including senior officers close to Gbagbo, have been charged with his killing, though only 19 have so far appeared in court.

Five soldiers testified on Tuesday, all of whom said they had participated in a search for Guei but denied they had assassinated him.

Kouadio Kouadio, who is charged with being an accessory to the murder, said General Brunot Dogbo Ble, then a colonel close to Gbagbo, had ordered him to go to St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan to look for Guei.

"We went and searched the basement and he was there, behind the cartons," testified Kouadio, who drove members of the elite Republican Guard to the cathedral. "We went to the general's home afterwards and his wife was there with her aide and guards. We took them to the colonel (Dogbo Ble)."

Dogbo Ble, commander of the Republican Guard, and Captain Anselme Seka Yapo, an officer of the gendarmerie known as "Seka Seka", are accused of ordering and organising the murders of Guei, his wife and their employees.

Dogbo Ble is already serving 15 years in prison for his 2012 conviction for complicity in violence including kidnapping, illegal detention and murder. Yapo was given a 20-year sentence last August after being found guilty of murder and assault.

Although the 2002 coup attempt failed, the non-commissioned officers behind the attempted power grab maintained their grip on the northern half of the world's top cocoa grower, eventually becoming the New Forces rebellion.

The group helped bring to power the current president, Alassane Ouattara, after Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat in a 2010 run-off election, setting off a brief civil war.

Gbagbo's trial before the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the conflict opens on Thursday in The Hague.

(Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Joe Bavier, Larry King)

Ivorian ex-president accused at war crimes trial of stoking "unspeakable violence" to keep power

By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - War crimes prosecutors accused ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo of orchestrating "unspeakable violence", including murder and gang rape by supporters, in order to cling to power after losing an election, pitching his country into civil war.

Rising stiffly on the opening day of his trial at the International Criminal Court, Gbagbo, 70, pleaded not guilty to all charges. His co-accused, youth leader Charles Ble Goude, 44, also pleaded innocent and said he did not recognise the charges.

Four months of conflict ravaged Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa grower, in early 2011 after Gbagbo refused to step down. Around 3,000 people were killed and the fighting ended only when former colonial power France intervened militarily, allowing election winner Alessane Ouattara to take office.

The trial could ramp up tensions in Ivory Coast, where Gbagbo, the highest ranked politician ever to appear before the 13-year-old ICC, remains influential.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in an opening statement, said Gbagbo and his inner circle had targeted Muslims and people of other ethnicities that they assumed had supported Ouattara.

"Cote d'Ivoire succumbed to chaos and was subjected to unspeakable violence," she said, using the country's French name. "Gbagbo never intended to leave office," she added, to groans from his many supporters in the public gallery.

Bensouda related the account of one witness who had been arrested at a pro-Ouattara rally and subjected, along with other women, to three days of gang rapes by armed gendarmes.

Seven were killed when state security agents opened fire from an armoured car on a demonstration in a marketplace in an immigrant-heavy neighbourhood of the capital Abidjan, she added.

Gbagbo's supporters, hundreds of whom were demonstrating outside the courthouse on Thursday, say he is a victim of neo-colonial meddling by France and accuse prosecutors of ignoring alleged crimes by Ouattara's camp.

"We want him released," said Paris-based Ivorian Michele, demonstrating in the windswept street in front of the court in The Hague. Ouattara was a "rebel chief" who had been helped by France to usurp power, she added.

Bensouda asked for "patience" from Ivorians while her investigations into the other side continued. Her plea was met with jeers from the gallery.

The case is a test for the credibility of the global war crimes court. Its last attempt to press charges against a top politician, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, ended in disarray amid fierce diplomatic lobbying by Kenya and its African allies. [L8N15B3M7]

The court has so far handed down just two convictions, both against little-known African warlords. It opened its first investigation outside the continent on Wednesday, delving into the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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