Showdown at The Hague: Tens of thousands to support the former Pr. Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire

The international Criminal Court (ICC) postponed the hearing scheduled to take place on June 18, 2012 in the case against Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Cote d’Ivoire, facing charges of crimes against humanity.  While the purpose of the hearing was to allow both sides to present arguments on the sufficiency of evidence for a trial, President Gbagbo’s lawyers—who previously challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction—asked for a continuance to better prepare a defense. The hearing has been rescheduled for August 13, 2012.

On October 31, 2010, Ivorian citizens went to the polls to elect their president and to regain their right to inclusive democratic elections after many years of civil war. Although the hope was that Cote d’Ivoire would undergo a fair and peaceful transition in governance, a fiercely contested election results have led to the swearing in of two presidents, whose victories have been determined by conflicting decisions made by two of Cote d’Ivoire’s national institutions:  The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council (CC). The President of the IEC, without reaching a consensus as is required by law, declared Alassane Ouattara winner, while the CC, which has ultimate authority in election matters, declared Laurent Gbagbo victor, after reviewing voting reports and irregularities.

In fact, there were serious abuses by pro-Ouattara rebel forces in the North, as well as the IEC’s reported tampering with election results. Northern rebel forces loyal to Ouattara refused to disarm before the elections, as was required by the peace agreement. Rebel forces then prevented substantial UN involvement in election preparation and monitoring in the North. Without any protection, Gbagbo’s northern supporters faced serious pressure and violence from opposition and rebel forces. The few international and African election observers that had access in the North documented cases of murder, beatings and intimidation of pro-Gbagbo voters, and ballots were being supervised, stuffed, and carried by rebel forces, contrary to election rules.  As a result of rebel interference, voting irregularities in the North were significant.

When the president of the IEC, Mr. Yousouf Bakayoko, (currently member of the Ouattara’s government)   appeared at the Golf hotel, which Ouattara had been using as his headquarters, to proclaim well beyond the designated constitutional deadline, that Ouattara had won the election, the IEC had reached a consensus and consolidated the results in only 15 of the 19 electoral areas of Cote d’Ivoire.  No consensus had been reached at that time for four areas under the rebellion’s control, where voting irregularities and violence were observed. However, the results given by the Head of IEC included the contested numbers from the North. By that point, Cote d’Ivoire’s constitution clearly gives the Council final say in determining election results. After examining the claims of irregularities, and analyzing the reports and tallies, the CC partially invalidated some of the fraudulent votes from the northern regions and, after the adjustments were completed, proclaimed Laurent Gbagbo as winner with 51.45% of the vote to Ouattara’s 48.55%.

Despite All these irregularities, led by Sarkhozy of France,  the UN and the USA continued the campaign against Laurent Gbagbo: stating that he has refused to step down after losing the presidential election to his archrival Alassane Ouattara. In fact, the whole election process was flow.  Gbagbo raised legitimate legal questions regarding the elections and Ouattara’s alleged vote fixing. Gbagbo brought this accusation before the Ivorian Supreme Court, decided in favor of Gbagbo.

At this point the United Nations (UN) stepped in and certified former International Monetary Fund official Alassane Ouattara as the victor. President Gbagbo’s demand for a recount of the votes was denied. The standoff resulted in months of violence between supporters of both sides leaving thousands dead.  The UN, France and the USA refused to follow a peaceful resolution of the elections dispute and then confirmed their determination by ousting Gbagbo by force. The French recently admitted to working with the UN to break the back of Ivorian forces supporting President Gbagbo because Ouattara’s forces were not capable of it on their own. President Gbagbo was captured, handed over to Ouattara’s forces, tortured, and imprisoned in Cote d’Ivoire. In November, President Gbagbo was flown to The Hague, Netherlands where he currently awaits trial before the ICC.

The former leader stands accused of crimes committed by forces loyal to him during the standoff. Gbagbo claims he is innocent. In 2011, The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC found that there exists “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Gbagbo bears individual criminal responsibility, as an indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts.”1 Human rights groups have stated that forces loyal to both leaders committed crimes during the standoff.

During the post electoral crisis, the International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) investigated the matter and proposed a solution to the dispute. A personal call to action was sent out to world leaders and international organizations involved in the crisis. (See the IIJD letter to world leaders.) President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa later agreed with the IIJD and wrote that the West got it wrong by not adopting a solution similar to the one proposed by the IIJD.

What took place in Cote d’Ivoire can be characterized as a coup. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the French elite have condemned Gbagbo’s anti-colonialist rhetoric. The election provided the opportunity for Sarkozy and French government, backed by the UN, the European Union, and the USA for “payback.” Such payback has international ramifications.  Because of the way this post-electoral crisis was handed, the credibility of the ICC is now being questioned by Africans who praised the court at its inception.

Since President Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague, Ivoirians living in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere have been traveling to The Hague by the thousands to express their support for Laurent Gbagbo, the father of democracy and multiparty system in Cote d’Ivoire. On June 18, 2012, despite the fact the case was already known to have been postponed, tens of thousands of people traveled to the ICC to express their support to Former President Laurent Gbagbo.