Leaders silence leaves Gbagbo in lone ICC war
from ALEXIS DOUMBIA in Abidjan / MTHULISI SIBANDA in Johannesburg
ABIDJAN, (CAJ News) – THE trial of former Ivory Coast President, Laurent Gbagbo has started at The Hague on Thursday with African leaders conspicuous by their silence on the issue.
Gbago, who will face trial alongside former Youth Minister, Charles Blé Goudé, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) crimes allegedly committed during the post-electoral violence in Ivory Coast in 2010-2011.
It will also be the first time that a former President will be tried at the Netherlands-based court.
Ahead of the trial, African leaders, who have largely been outspoken on allegations the court was on largely targeting African leaders, has been conspicuously silent ahead of the trial.
The ICC has been accused of bias and being a tool of Western imperialism by only punishing leaders from small, weak states while ignoring crimes committed by richer and more powerful states.
A special African Union Summit held in October last year proposed a withdrawal at the summit. However, the AU did not endorse the proposal for a mass withdrawal from the ICC due to lack of support for the idea.
Among the leaders that attended another AU Summit, held in June 2015, was Sudanese President Ome al-Bashir. He was prohibited from leaving that country while a court decided whether he should be handed over to the ICC for alleged war crimes.
He, nevertheless, was allowed to leave South Africa soon afterward in defiance of court orders.
Such demonstrated African countries’ position on ICC. The African Union was also unequivocal of in its support of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Deputy, William Ruto, who were facing charges of crimes against humanity.
Charges against Kenyatta have been withdrawn albeit prosecutors saying the Kenyan government had refused to hand over evidence vital to the case.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast to its support to fellow leaders under probe from the ICC, African leaders have not been vocal in the Gbagbo case.
“The silence of African leaders on the upcoming trial betrays their inability to find consistency on human rights issues,” said South African legal advocate, Gabriel Shumba.
“Often, this inconsistency also exposes the hypocrisy of our commitment to international treaties on the need to punish perpetrators of atrocities on the continent as high ranking individuals in governments across the continent are usually the perpetrators,” he said.
As such, Shumba said there was a need a new culture of shifting blame from ‘Westerners’ to admitting African failures in order to create a better continent for posterity.
“India is a former colony, but rarely do you hear it blame it problems on outsiders. Most of the African cases before the ICC have been referred to it by African governments, yet we dare accuse the institution of bias against African leadership,” Shumba, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, said.
It has also been speculated the AU has broken rank with Gbagbo owing to a spat that followed the contentions elections that sparked civil strife.
Rejecting the African Union’s endorsement of the United-Nations certified winner of November’s presidential election, Gbagbo’s administration said “African leaders are making the situation worse and will be held accountable for a possible return to civil war.”
Gbagbo, who had been in power since 2000 is facing trial for the deadly violence that followed the 201-11 elections in Ivory Coast.
An estimated 3 000 civilians were killed during the violent standoff emanating from the refusal by Gbagbo to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, who was proclaimed the winner and was endorsed by a number of countries.
Human rights groups meanwhile hailed the beginning of the trial that will see victims of the violence are participating in the trial.
In total, 668 victims have been authorised to participate -199 against Laurent Gbagbo and 469-against Goudé.
“The trial is of the utmost importance as it sends a strong signal that even the highest representatives of a State – irrespective of their power and official position – are not immune to prosecution under the Rome Statute system and will face justice for the crimes they have committed,” stated Karim Lahidji, International Federation for Human Rights President.
– CAJ News
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