ICC Appeals Chamber upholds Gbagbo’s acquittal
April 1, 2021
THE Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court has upheld the acquittal by the ICC’s Trial Chamber in January 2019 of former President of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, and his ex-Minister of Sports and Youth, Charles Blé Goudé.
The decision is final and all conditions on their release have been revoked, with the Appeals Chamber ordering the ICC’s Registrar to make arrangements for the “safe transfer” of the two men to a “receiving state”.
After Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were freed on all charges of crimes against humanity, following a three-year trial, the Office of the Prosecutor appealed against the decision.
The two were tried for crimes allegedly committed during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 2010 and April 2011.
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the judgment was delivered on a partially virtual basis, with participation either from the seat of the ICC or from separate locations outside the Court.
In its judgment, the five-member Appeals Chamber rejected, by a majority, the Prosecutor’s two grounds of appeal: that the Trial Chamber’s decision to acquit Gbagbo and Blé Goudé had violated statutory requirements; and was taken without properly articulating and consistently applying a clearly defined standard of proof in assessing the sufficiency of the evidence.
The Appeals Chamber said that while trial chambers should ideally deliver both the verdict and reasons concurrently, a delay between the issuance of a verdict and its reasons could not necessarily invalidate an entire trial process.
“There may, on the contrary, be clear justification for such separation in the particular circumstances of a case; most obviously in this regard is when the liberty of an acquitted defendant is at stake,” the judgement said.
The Appeals Chamber also rejected the argument that the two judges of the Trial Chamber who had formed the majority had failed to articulate and consistently apply the standard of proof.
It noted that both judges had found that the evidence against the two accused had been “exceptionally weak”.
After their acquittal, lawyers for Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were surprised when they were kept in detention while the Prosecutor appealed, a decision that legal experts said was unprecedented.
They were later released but restrictions were placed on their movement, with the ICC ordering them not to “travel beyond the territorial limits of the municipality of the receiving state without the explicit and prior authorisation of the Court”.
They were also ordered to hand over their passports.
Gbagbo went to Belgium while Blé Goudé stayed in The Hague.
The travel constraints had been imposed because, it was argued, the two men were supposed to make themselves available for the appeal hearing.
From January 28, 2016, the Prosecution spent 231 hearing days presenting its evidence, with 82 witnesses testifying in court and through video link.
Thousands of documents were submitted in evidence, and hundreds of motions, requests and decisions were filed.
Having spent such a long time in detention, will Gbagbo and Blé Goudé receive compensation?
The ICC notes on this issue: “According to Article 85 of the Rome Statute, in exceptional circumstances, where the Court finds conclusive facts showing that there has been a grave and manifest miscarriage of justice, it may in its discretion award compensation to a person who has been released from detention following a final decision of acquittal.”