Ivory Coast signs ICC accord, pledges no impunity

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2011 9:39 AM
Ivory Coast signs ICC accord, pledges no impunity

By Tim Cocks

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's justice minister pledged that no one who committed war crimes during a post-poll power struggle would escape justice, as he signed a cooperation accord on Tuesday with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC's deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was in Abidjan on Tuesday to open an investigation into crimes committed by either side in a standoff between President Alassane Ouattara and former president Laurent Gbagbo after a November 28 election.

Gbagbo's supporters complain that not a single member of Ouattara's camp has been arrested for alleged crimes, despite evidence of abuses by the former rebel troops.

Bensouda was due to meet Ivorian officials to discuss the ICC investigation, for which ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo lodged a request with the ICC judges last week.

"Your presence ... is a strong signal that no one can commit a crime without being found out and punished," Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou Kouadio said at the signing of the agreement.

"The Ivorian government will cooperate fully so that light can be cast on all crimes committed in Ivory Coast, with no taboos, whether they were by people close to Ouattara's camp or to Gbagbo's camp."

Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara following the poll, triggering months of violence and economic havoc in the world's No. 1 cocoa-producing country before Gbagbo was captured in April in Abidjan with help from French forces.

Moreno-Ocampo said last week at least 3,000 people were killed, 520 people were arbitrarily detained in the violence and there were more than 100 reported cases of rape, with the number of unreported cases potentially much higher.

"The agreement we have just signed today was required to enable the Ivorian authorities to fulfill their obligations under Chapter 9 of the Rome statute," Bensouda said.

"The legal framework therefore is now in place ... And we believe that with this cooperation ... we can help to put an end to impunity."

Gbagbo is currently being detained in northern Ivory Coast awaiting trial by Ivorian courts for war crimes -- but also for alleged corruption, embezzlement and other alleged economic crimes, as is his wife, Simone, and several close aides.

Fifteen of those aides being detained in Abidjan, including former prime minister Gilbert Ake, finance minister Desire Dallo and foreign affairs minister Alcide Djedje, were charged with crimes including destabilizing the state, theft of public goods and embezzlement, on Sunday.

"Of course the Ivorian authorities remain entitled to conduct their own proceedings ... The ICC only comes in to complement the national efforts taking place," Bensouda said.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)