AMSTERDAM (AP) — The International Criminal Court on Tuesday unsealed an arrest warrant for a top aide of the Ivory Coast's former president, accusing him of committing crimes against humanity as commander of youth militias that took part in 2010 post-election violence.
The court's revelation that it has quietly been seeking to arrest 40-year-old Charles Ble Goude since 2011 for alleged murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts sets up the prospect of a jurisdictional fight with his home country. Ble Goude is in custody in Ivory Coast, and authorities there have indicated they intend to try him at home.
Pretrial judges at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, say that forces loyal to former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo — who is already in the court's custody — systematically targeted civilians who supported his then-opponent, current President Alassane Ouattara. The court's arrest warrant describes Ble Goude as a member of Gbagbo's "inner circle."
Ble Goude fled his country after Ouattara came to power, and he was arrested in Ghana and extradited to Ivory Coast in January. Prosecutors say some 3,000 people died in the 2010-2011 postelection violence, with crimes committed on both sides. However, to date the International Criminal Court has only issued arrest warrants for Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, and now Ble Goude.
On Tuesday, the Ivory Coast government filed a formal request with the international court to remand Simone Gbagbo's case back to Ivory Coast, arguing the West African country's own justice system is ready to handle it.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the warrant against Ble Goude revealed Tuesday obliges Ivory Coast to extradite him. The spokesman said the court unsealed it Tuesday because judges thought there was no longer any point of keeping it confidential. Ivory Coast's justice minister mentioned its existence on television last month.
Ivory Coast government representatives could not immediately be reached for comment. Under war crimes law, a country generally has the right and obligation to try war crimes suspects at home. The International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction in cases where a country that belongs to the court's founding treaty is unwilling or unable to prosecute a criminal.
However, once a suspect has been identified by the international court, a country has to negotiate with it over jurisdiction — an obligation that is at times ignored. The court is currently enmeshed in a similar dispute over Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who is being held in Libya, despite demands by the ICC that he be extradited in order to receive a fair trial.
Ble Goude's international lawyer, Nick Kaufman, has said he doubts Ble Goude can receive a fair trial in Ivory Coast. Ble Goude is "a man of peace, and he maintains his innocence on the charges," Kaufman said Tuesday. He added that the Ivorian government has not allowed him to visit Ble Goude.
Herve Gouamene, who is defending Ble Goude in Ivory Coast, said he didn't think Ivorian courts or government will surrender Ble Goude. "We are ready to defend our client in Ivory Coast," he said.
Associated Press correspondents Marc-Andre Boisvert and Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed to this story from Abidjan and Dakar, Senegal.