It is still far from certain whether former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo will stand trial at the ICC. But even the start of pre-trial hearings in The Hague is causing dismay to some Ivorians.
Pre-trial hearings in the case of Laurent Gbagbo begin at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Tuesday (February 19). He was president of the Ivory Coast from 2000 to 2010 and he has been in the custody at the ICC since November 2011.
67-year-old Gbagbo is accused of crimes against humanity. "Laurent Gbagbo is accused of orchestrating murder, rape, other sexual offenses, persecution and other inhumane acts," said Fadi El Abdallah, spokesman for the ICC.
The hearing and consultation phase is set to last until February 28.
"It serves as a basis for decision by the judges. Only when the hearings are completed, will there be a ruling whether Mr. Gbagbo will face trial not," Abdallah El told DW in an interview.
The crimes that Laurent Gbagbo is alleged to have ordered took place two years ago. Ivory Coast was engulfed in violence that claimed the lives of some 3,000 people and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes.
Gbagbo lost the presidential elections at the end of 2010, but refused to hand over power to his victorious rival Alassane Ouattara. The Ivorian Constitutional Court was dominated by Gbagbo's supporters and they declared that he was victor rather than Ouattara.
In early 2011, the conflict escalated and there were violent clashes between supporters of the two presidential candidates. Amid growing international pressure, France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, intervened militarily, and on April 11 2011 Gbagbo was arrested. One month later, Alassane Ouattara was appointed president of Ivory Coast.
Justice for both sides
Ivorians in the capital Abidjan are following events in The Hague very closely. According to Jens-Uwe Hettmann, who works there for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German pro-democracy think tank, many Ivorians are in favor of Gbagbo standing trial in The Hague. "But a section of the population sees the whole thing as a case of the victor handing out justice," Hettmann told DW.
The feeling is that supporters of the current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara must also share responsibility for the riots, but they have so far not been called upon to answer such allegations in The Hague. "As long as only one representative of the two sides is brought to justice, I find it very difficult to speak of a neutral, objective, process of law".
Such accusations are not justified according to the ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah. "The International Criminal Court went after the mastermind behind the alleged crimes. This imposed limitations on the number of cases we could pursue. The gravity of the charges also played an important role," El Abdallah added.
Burden of proof
The International Criminal Court has been dispensing justice in The Hague for the past ten years. Its mandate is to bring to trial perpetrators of the most serious crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since it was founded the court has delivered two verdicts and instigated proceedings in eighteen cases, one of which is that of Laurent Gbagbo.
Should Gbagbo stand trial, he would be the first former head of state in the dock of the ICC.