The International Criminal Court on Wednesday upheld the 2019 acquittal of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and ordered all conditions of his release removed.
Prosecutors had argued that grave errors were made by war crimes judges who found they failed to prove their case against Gbagbo and co-accused former minister Charles Ble Goude.
“The appeals chamber, by majority, has found no error that could have materially affected the decision of the trial chamber,” said presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, reading the panel’s ruling.
“The appeals chamber hereby revokes all remaining conditions on the release of Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ble Goude as a result of this judgement.”
Trial judges acquitted both on charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in post-election violence in Ivory Coast in 2010-11. They ended the trial after the prosecution finished its case and before the defence began, saying evidence submitted was not enough to support a conviction.
Gbagbo still has strong support in Ivory Coast and his followers say they have been left out of the country’s reconciliation process in the years since his removal from power. They supported his run for president last year, but his candidacy was not approved.
The 75-year-old had been released conditionally to Belgium. Judges on Wednesday ordered all restrictions on his release removed, paving the way for his possible return to Ivory Coast.
Dozens of supporters of Gbagbo hugged and cheered outside the court building after the decision.
“Gbagbo is free!” a woman sang in French, while waving an Ivory Coast flag.
Gbagbo served as president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011 after his refusal to concede electoral defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara. The civil conflict that followed killed 3,000 people.
Amnesty International West Africa researcher Michele Eken said the victims “will be disappointed again today”.
Eken said the acquittal means “the court has held no one responsible for atrocity crimes committed during this period”.
Ouattara, who has been in power for nearly a decade, was re-elected in November for a controversial third term strongly contested by opposition leaders. He maintains the two-term limit for presidents does not apply to him because of a constitutional referendum passed in 2016.