PARIS - After seven years detained at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and ex-youth leader Charles Ble Goude are free men — but there's a hitch.
Presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji read out the unanimous verdict of the five-judge appeals panel.
"The conditions set out in the written judgement are imposed to Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ble Goude upon their release to a state willing to accept them on its territory and willing and able to enforce the conditions."
It's a small victory for ICC prosecutors, after the court's stunning acquittal of both Gbagbo and Ble Goude last month. Judges said the prosecution's case was "exceptionally weak" in trying to link the men to election-related violence in Ivory Coast in 2010 and 2011 that left roughly 3,000 people dead.
?Both ICC prosecutors and the chief lawyer for the victims, Paolina Massidda, had argued for the two men's conditional release. Massidda warned they presented flight risks and said their unconditional release might impact victims' safety.
"Victims remain very concerned about the possibility the commission of further crimes and attempts to compromise the integrity of the proceedings if the defendants are released without conditions," Massidda said.
Gbagbo's lawyer Emmanuel Altit unsuccessfully argued that conditional release went against the very principle of his client's acquittal.
He said liberty is an essential human right, and Gbagbo should be freed since he was acquitted.
Last month's acquittal has intensified criticism of the ICC, which has convicted only four people in nearly 20 years of operation. One of them — former Congolese vice-president Jean Pierre Bemba — was later acquitted on appeals.
Critics say the court is ineffective and overly focused on African cases. Supporters note the so-called "court of last resort" is probing other regions of the world — and say the court has insufficient means to realize a daunting mandate.