HE HAGUE, Netherlands – International Criminal Court appeals judges on Wednesday ordered a new review into whether former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo should be released from detention while his long-running trial continues on crimes against humanity charges.
Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski said a five-judge panel unanimously upheld an appeal by the 72-year-old former president against the refusal in March by judges conducting Gbagbo’s trial to release him from custody.
Gbagbo has been in the court’s detention unit since late 2011 and will remain jailed pending the new review, which is likely to take months. Prosecutors have repeatedly argued that if he is allowed out of jail, he could flee to avoid justice.
Hofmanski said the trial judges made a number of errors in rejecting Gbagbo’s request for release, including failing to consider his health and the length of time he has already spent in detention and by ruling that his age weighed in favor of keeping him jailed. The trial judges had said that Gbagbo’s age mean that if he is convicted, any sentence would likely entail him spending the rest of his life in prison, giving him an incentive to abscond.
In Ivory Coast, Bonaventure Dedji, of the youth wing of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front, called the ruling “a small but important victory for our leader.”
“We hope he will be released before the end of the year,” Dedji said.
Gbagbo has pleaded not guilty to four crimes against humanity charges, including murder and rape allegedly committed by his supporters during violence that left 3,000 people dead after the country’s disputed 2010 presidential election.
Prosecutors accuse Gbagbo of unleashing violence in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to cling to office after losing a runoff to now-President Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo is being tried alongside an alleged member of his own inner circle, former youth minister Charles Ble Goude, who also insists he is innocent.
Gbagbo’s historic trial, the International Criminal Court’s first against a former head of state, began in January 2016 and prosecutors are still presenting evidence.
In a sign that peace and stability finally are returning to the West African economic powerhouse, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast ended last month after 13 years, despite a recent series of army mutinies.