By Susan Kendi
Five years after former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo first sought to be released from detention, a glimmer of hope for freedom appeared this week.
Judges in the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court this week overturned Trial Chamber I’s March 2017 decision to continue holding Gbagbo in detention. Presiding Judge Piotr HofmaÅ„ski, who read the appeal chamber’s decision, said that Trial Chamber I was found to have made a number of mistakes in determining Gbagbo’s continued detention, and ordered it to review whether or not he should continue to live in lock-up or be released – with or without conditions.
Although Gbagbo, who is facing four counts of crimes against humanity, will continue to remain in detention, the rebuke to Trial Chamber I will give him some comfort. Gbagbo was president of Cote d’Ivoire from 2000 until his arrest and surrender to the ICC on November 30, 2011.
The appeal judges, in their Wednesday decision, said that Trial Chamber I failed to consider Gbagbo’s advanced age, his health condition, the time period he spent in pre-trial detention and relied on the fact that Gbagbo denied responsibility for the crimes with which he is charged despite the presumption of innocence.
Before the appeal chamber’s decision, the prosecution and victims’ lawyers had argued that Gbagbo’s detention was necessary to ensure that he appears in court for the trial proceedings and that he does not obstruct or jeopardize the court’s proceedings.
The Appeals chamber has held that its decision is corrective and did not look into facts and evidence afresh. It added that it will not tamper with the review unless it is clear that the Pre-trial and Trial chambers have failed to appreciate the facts, taken into account irrelevant facts, or failed to take into account significant facts.
On March 10, 2017 the Trial Chamber I of the ICC decided that Gbagbo would remain in detention. The chamber argued that having reviewed the submissions made by the prosecution and defence and the evidence before it, no circumstances had changed to a scale that could amount to Gbagbo’s release. It added that there is no realistic proposal that would allow the release of the former president.
The defence appealed the decision of Trial Chamber I of the ICC on March 20, 2017.
Laurent Gbagbo is the first former head of state to be tried before the ICC.
On November 23, 2011, Pre-trial Chamber III of the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo, who was surrendered on November 30, 2011 and made his first appearance in court on December 5, 2011. He has been at the ICC detention unit since.
In April 2012, the 72-year-old Gbagbo filed an application for bail which was rejected by Pre-Trial Chamber I on July 13, 2012. His lawyers appealed the decision but their application was dismissed the Appeals Chamber dismissed it.
On November 2012, the Pre-Trial chamber delivered its decision that Gbagbo would remain in detention. On June 12, 2014 a decision was delivered confirming the charges against Gbagbo. Subsequently, all the decisions made by Gbagbo on his detention maintained that he remains in custody.
The “Tenth decision” on Gbagbo’s detention was issued on November 2, 2015 and at the end of the same month the Trial Chamber resolved that he was fit to stand trial and appear for the trial proceedings. The trial began on January 28, 2016.
Gbagbo is accused of four counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as other inhumane acts and persecution, allegedly committed between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011 after Côte d’Ivoire’s November 2010 presidential elections which left about 3,000 people dead.