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ICC Considers Providing Legal Aid for Gbagbo Defense

Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo waits for judges to arrive for his initial court appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague December 5, 2011. Gbagbo appeared at the International Criminal Court on Monday, facing charges of c

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch says it is a basic human right that all accused get representation by defense counsel

A human rights lawyer said it is not uncommon for a high-profile individual like former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, facing charges before the International Criminal Court, to get legal assistance.

The ICC clerk is quoted as saying Gbagbo will get legal aid for his trial.

The former leader was taken to The Hague last November to face trial for four counts of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Ivory Coast’s post-election violence.

His lawyers reportedly told the court that they have no resources with which to conduct his defense.

Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said former Liberian President Charles Taylor got similar treatment during his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

“Crucial to any accused receiving a fair trial is that he or she receives legal representation from effective legal counsel defense attorneys. That’s a basic human right. And, if in fact the accused does not have funding to pay himself for that legal representation, then the court that is trying the individual subsidizes or makes the payment to the defense attorneys,” he said.

Dicker said he shares what he calls the well-founded skepticism of any Ivorian who might question the notion that Gbagbo does not have the money to pay for his own defense.

But, he said it is a common practice in U.S. domestic legal practice and even international practice for a court to provide legal aid for a defendant who might not have the resources.

“We’ve seen this claim of poverty made, for example, by former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Charles Taylor received very high quality legal defense that cost quite a bit of money, but because Mr. Taylor alleged impoverishment, and because the court was unable to identify and seize assets that Mr. Taylor may have had stashed away somewhere, the court paid for Taylor’s defense,” Dicker said.

A statement by the ICC clerk reportedly said the financial aid granted by the court will cover only the preliminary stages of Gbagbo’s case while the court investigates his financial status.

Dicker said the court made the right decision, at least for now, because it is a basic human right that all accused must have representation by defense counsel.

“What I make of the order you cited coming from the ICC about Laurent Gbagbo is that the court is trying to identify possible assets of Laurent Gbagbo that could be used to pay for his defense in the interim until such determination is made, rather than Gbagbo not receive the benefit of legal counsel,’ Dicker said.

Dicker said, as serious as the charges against Gbagbo are, ICC sentencing guidelines prohibit the imposition of capital punishment, or the death penalty.