The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has said Ivory Coast should allow former President Laurent Gbagbo, who has been barred from running in October’s presidential election, to participate in the high-stakes poll.
The court, based in Arusha in Tanzania, on Friday asked Ivory Coast to “take all necessary steps to immediately remove all obstacles” preventing Gbagbo from being added to the electoral roll.
Ivory Coast withdrew its recognition of the court’s jurisdiction in April this year.
Gbagbo, who was president from 2000 to 2010, is not on the electoral roll which was updated this year, and thus cannot vote or be a candidate in the election.
The 75-year-old was freed conditionally by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague after he was cleared in January 2019 of crimes against humanity. He is living in Brussels pending the outcome of an appeal against the ICC ruling.
His candidacy was rejected by Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council on the grounds that he was handed a 20-year prison term by an Ivorian court last November over the looting of the local branch of the Central Bank of West African States during the crisis that engulfed the country in 2010. Then, Gbagbo had refused to stand down after the electoral commission declared incumbent President Alassane Ouattara the winner of a delayed election.
At least 3,000 people were killed in the fighting that ensued between forces loyal to the two men, with both sides accused of committing atrocities.
The Arusha-based court also said Gbagbo’s conviction should not be included on his judicial record until it had time to deliver a full judgement.
The Constitutional Council, Ivory Coast’s top court, has rejected 40 of 44 applications to contest the October 31 election, which is taking place against a backdrop of rising political tensions.
Besides Gbagbo, those barred include former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, a 47-year-old former Ouattara ally and rebel commander who helped the president come to power in 2011.
The Ivorian court, however, accepted an application by Ouattara, 78, who is seeking a third term despite criticism that this sidesteps constitutional limits.
On September 15, the African court handed down a verdict in Soro’s favour, saying Ivory Coast should also “immediately remove all obstacles” preventing him from competing in the ballot.
Soro, who lives today in France, was barred from contesting the election on the grounds of a 20-year sentence, also in absentia, for alleged embezzlement of public funds, handed down in April.
Ouattara has blasted attempts by Gbagbo and Soro to contest the presidential election as “provocation” and said one of them belongs behind bars.
“Soro, like Gbagbo, was excluded because he has a criminal record,” Ouattara told the French magazine Paris Match.
“Each of them are perfectly aware that their candidacies are based on provocation … Guillaume Soro doesn’t deserve to be on the campaign trail but in prison,” he said.
“This young man, drunk on money and power, has simply lost his head.”
Soro, who was prime minister from 2007-2012 and head of parliament until last year, has dubbed Ouattara’s bid for a third term a “civilian coup d’etat” and urged the opposition to unite to stop him. Meanwhile, Ouattara’s main challenger, 86-year-old Henri Konan Bedie, has called for civil disobedience.
They accuse Ouattara, who has been in power for a decade, of violating the constitution by seeking another term. Ouattara says a constitutional change means his two-term limit has been reset.