The International Criminal Court prosecutor sought approval Thursday to investigate the orgy of postelection violence in Ivory Coast that left some 3,000 people dead last year.
If a panel of judges grants his request, it will be the seventh case of war crimes or crimes against humanity opened by Luis Moreno-Ocampo _ all of them in Africa.
Though he has considered cases in other places from Gaza to Columbia, the prosecutor defended his focus on the African continent.
"When there are crimes under my jurisdiction, it is my duty to intervene," he said. "I am in Africa because the most serious crimes under my jurisdiction ... are today in Africa."
The latest outburst of violence to hit Ivory Coast _ once considered one of West Africa's most stable nations _ came after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara after losing the November election.
Ouattara finally took office in May and has asked the international court to investigate crimes committed by both sides during the postelection crisis.
Moreno-Ocampo said he has received information from many sources, including a U.N. commission of inquiry, that at least 3,000 people were killed in the violence and more than 100 people were reported raped. Hundreds more people disappeared.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo, aided by militias and Liberian mercenaries, launched attacks "to retain Laurent Gbagbo in power by all means," Moreno-Ocampo said in his written request.
Pro-Gbagbo forces "allegedly committed crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, other forms of sexual violence, imprisonment and enforced disappearance," the prosecutor added.
As the conflict between Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters escalated, "both sides committed war crimes on a large scale, including murder, rape, attacking civilians and attacking buildings dedicated to religion," according to the request.
The prosecutor has for years been studying possible crimes elsewhere, but without opening formal investigations.
The 2008 Gaza war is complicated because Israel rejects the court's jurisdiction and because the other side, Palestine, is not a state. The Palestinian Authority has attempted to unilaterally accept the court's jurisdiction as a way of opening a case.
Moreno-Ocampo called the complex legal issues involved in the Gaza case "peculiar" and said his office would make a decision on the Palestinian request, "when we're ready."
He said the court's focus on Africa is in part due to the United Nations, which ordered investigations in Darfur and Libya, but also because he has found the most cooperation from African governments.
"In Africa, you will see a critical mass of leaders who are struggling to stop violence in Africa and we are working with them," he said.
The court's investigators have been analyzing past atrocities in Ivory Coast for years and some activists believe any investigation authorized by judges should also cover earlier deadly upheavals.
Rights group No Peace Without Justice called on Moreno-Ocampo and Ouattara to extend the investigation back to 2002.
"Limiting the investigation to recent crimes when it is possible to investigate crimes since 2002 only opens the prosecutor to suggestions of partiality in the selection of cases and individuals for prosecution at a later stage," the group said in a statement.
Moreno-Ocampo said his decision to investigate only the recent postelection violence was based on evidence sent to his office.
"We never received a report about crimes committed previously," he said. "We are pretty sure the investigation should be opened after ... November 2010, but if the judges decide to go further we are more than delighted."