The lawyer of the former president of the Ivory Coast says his client has been treated brutally and “remains shocked and surprised” after his arrest by the International Criminal Court over war crimes charges, including murder and rape.
Emmanuel Altit says Laurent Gbagbo’s arrest is “illegal” and that he needs to be “treated with consideration”.
Gbagbo, who had been placed under house arrest in the northern town of Korhogo, was told at the last minute that a decision had been taken to extradite him to The Hague, the Netherlands, according to Altit.
“He remains surprised and shocked. He is tired because it was difficult, because he woke up in an extremely different environment and this is a man who is ill. His physical state is not good so he needs to be treated with consideration,” Altit said on Wednesday.
“He has just spent seven months in detention in difficult conditions, an arbitrary decision, an illegal detention, a detention which was physically, morally extremely difficult and so he was kidnapped, transferred to a European country in a brutal manner.”
Gbagbo, who is to appear before court on Monday, was captured in April after months of fighting between his forces and those of Alassane Ouattara, the current president.
The fighting followed a disputed election, which was won by Ouattara but Gbagbo refused to hand over power, insisting he was the winner and triggered a months-long civil conflict that left at least 3,000 people dead and more than a million displaced.
Gbagbo was removed with the help of French and UN troops that fought alongside Ouattara’s forces. France is Ivory Coast’s former colonial master.
An ICC statement said that at his first appearance before the court the judges would verify Gbagbo’s identity and ensure he was properly informed of the charges against him.
Gbagbo, 66, was flown from Ivory Coast to the Netherlands on Wednesday and transferred to a detention centre in The Hague, making him the first former head of state to be tried by the global court since its inception in 2002.
The court issued an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, in 2009 over alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur, but he remains at large and has even visited countries that should arrest him as they are signatories to the Rome statute that led to the formation of the ICC.
Some Ivorian officials feared a reaction from Gbagbo’s supporters when he was detained, but the streets were quiet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital on the edge of a lagoon.
As leader of Ivory Coast, Gbagbo was adept at mobilising sometimes violent mobs several thousand strong.
Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party called on supporters to “regroup for imminent action” in a statement.
“Gbagbo’s transfer to the Hague gives us all the reason we need to stand up. The day will come,” Charles Ble Goude, a pro-Gbagbo activist, told the pro-Gbagbo daily, Notre Voie.
His trial is likely to prove divisive and there is still a chance of protests when he goes into court. But for the time being Ivorians seem reluctant to reignite violence.
Some human rights groups asked why fighters for Ouattara had not also been arrested, despite evidence they too committed abuses.
“In all of our reports we made it clear there were violations of human rights on both sides,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in Geneva.
“President Ouattara has consistently expressed his commitment to fight against impunity in a fair and balanced way by going after all the perpetrators, regardless of their status or political affiliation. So this is something we would be encouraging him to do.”