It’s official: Laurent Gbagbo is the first head of state to be sent to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. He is currently being charged with crimes against humanity, murder, and rape — the allegedly systematic attacks committed in the four months after Gbagbo refused to admit defeat to his long-time rival, Alassane Outtara, in the Ivory Coast’s 2010 elections. But the story is far more complex than just that.
First off, Gbagbo’s trial is riddled with controversies. The former dictator has begun launching accusations against France — the Ivory Coast’s former colonial power — claiming that the West European nation is framing him in an attempt to topple him from power. What’s more, there is contention over whether Gbagbo’s transfer from the Ivory Coast — where he had been under house arrest since April — to the Hague constituted a lawful transport or a “political kidnapping” in which Gbagbo was decieved as to where he was being taken. Gbagbo’s supporters, who subscribe to the latter view, have pulled their party, the Ivorian Popular Front, out of the December parliamentary elections as a sign of protest.
Furthermore, debate surrounding the ICC has only escalated in recent years. Created in 2002 to prosecute those responsible for the world’s worst atrocities, the ICC is now the target of many criticisms from voices across the globe — particularly those in Africa, who claim the ICC spends a disproportionately large amount of their time focusing on crimes allegedly committed on their continent. The ICC also struggles to attain legitimacy in the eyes of the countries whose dictators it prosecutes: though long ago, it issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, Sudan has not complied.
Despite the controversies surrounding Gbagbo’s trial and the ICC more generally, it is likely Gbagbo’s hearing will evolve into a full-blown trial. What will be the outcome? Stay tuned.