Frustration with the International Criminal Court (ICC) is growing in Ivory Coast following Monday's decision that gave prosecutors more time to build their case against former President Laurent Gbagbo. Both supporters and detractors of Gbagbo say continued uncertainty surrounding his fate could hinder the Ivory Coast reconciliation process.
In the Abidjan section of Yopougon, a group of about a dozen men stare intently at the Tuesday morning papers, which are laid out for sale on a slanted wooden board. The face of former president Laurent Gbagbo stares back from many front pages.
Gbagbo has been charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed after he refused to accept defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara in the November 2010 presidential election. The United Nations says that crimes committed by both sides claimed at least 3,000 lives.
But judges at the ICC said Monday that evidence presented so far against Gbagbo was “apparently insufficient.”
Prosecutors have until November 15 to try to strengthen their case, and Gbagbo will remain behind bars until a final decision is reached.
The press in Ivory Coast is notoriously partisan, and the headlines revealed what each paper’s owner thought of Monday’s decision. Those supporting President Ouattara carried sober headlines such as “The result of the decision of the ICC.”
But the pro-Gbagbo papers were more animated. One labeled the decision “a grand victory.” Another declared, falsely, that judges had asked for Gbagbo to be set free. And a third said simply, “God is God.”
Kore Zadi, a 55-year-old retired security officer and a staunch Gbagbo supporter, said this last headline meant that the truth of Gbagbo’s innocence would eventually come out. He said the prosecution had plenty of time to build its case. If the evidence isn’t there, he said, Gbagbo should be released.
“Reconciliation cannot continue with him in prison," said Zadi. "If everyone is here, then we can say the truth and forgive each other. The past is the past. Both sides committed attacks. And if we have everyone back here in Ivory Coast then we can forgive each other," he said.
It’s not just Gbagbo supporters who are frustrated with the ICC. At a nearby gas station, Vazoumana Samassi said it was ridiculous to suggest there was a lack of evidence. The 27-year-old, who drives a public transport minivan, cited several attacks against female demonstrators that took place near his home in the district of Abobo, allegedly carried out by Gbagbo’s security forces.
"How can they say there is no proof? We saw all the women who were killed in Abobo. Those were our mothers. That’s why I don’t like this decision," Samassi said.
In Monday’s ruling, the prosecution was faulted for its reliance on reports from non-governmental organizations and the media, which it said fell short of “a full and proper investigation.”
Linda Gueye, head of communications for the Coalition for the ICC, said the request for more evidence was “part of the process.”
“The prosecutors gathered some evidence and they presented it to the judge," she said. "The judges are the ones who are supposed to determine whether the evidence is sufficient enough to send the case to trial. The judges were ones saying this is not enough. We need more evidence to make sure that, if the case goes [to] trial, there is enough to confirm those charges," Gueye said.
But Luc Meledge, a clothing vendor in Yopougon and a Ouattara supporter, said the extension of Gbagbo’s time behind bars would make it difficult for the country to move forward.
“It’s a bad situation for Ivorians, because there are two camps, one that speaks of victory and one that speaks of defeat," Meledge said. "And while the leader of the defeated side is still detained over there, it will be difficult to move on.”
According to Monday’s ruling, defense lawyers will have until February 2014 to respond to additional evidence presented by prosecutors.