Today, the former president of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, made his first appearance in front of International Criminal Court (ICC) judges after arriving in The Hague last week. Gbagbo is being held in an ICC detention centre and is facing four counts of crimes against humanity for violence which he initiated after losing his position in last November’s presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
Even though the international community recognized the presidential election as free and fair, Gbagbo refused to step down and initiated a brutal campaign supported by the Ivorian Defence and Security Forces (FDS), youth militia and mercenaries, which abducted, tortured, raped, and killed Ouattara supporters. The conflict resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Ivorians and caused at least one million civilians to flee their homes. Finally, after four months of violence between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara supporters, Ouattara’s forces succeeded in taking the capital in April, capturing Gbagbo bringing an end to the bloody conflict.
Despite underlying tensions between the two sides, Cote d’Ivoire has been relatively peaceful since Gbagbo’s capture and it is positive sign that President Ouattara and the Ivorian government turned him over to the ICC to face justice. While the ICC has only issued a warrant for Gbagbo, Chief Prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo continues to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed by pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces. Justice is an important aspect of peace and must be applied to all parties responsible for atrocities against civilians, not only Gbagbo and his supporters, in order to prevent conflict from recurring in the war torn country of Cote d’Ivoire.
With legislative elections in Cote d’Ivoire set to begin this upcoming Sunday, the international community must pay attention and be ready to respond so that heightened tensions surrounding Gbagbo’s turnover to the ICC and the countries first elections since last year’s atrocities do not result a reemergence of violence.