ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast's government said Friday that it would not be extraditing former first lady Simone Gbagbo to join her husband at the International Criminal Court, where both have been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity, after thousands died in postelection violence.
The announcement comes amid growing opposition within Africa to the international court, which so far has indicted only Africans including Kenya's president and deputy president, whose trial is now under way.
Former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who has been under house arrest in Ivory Coast, also has been charged locally with genocide and economic crimes related to the 2010-2011 conflict. "This decision by the council is aimed at trying to prosecute Mrs. Gbagbo in Ivory Coast by Ivorian courts, which today have been rehabilitated and can provide a fair trial and equally guarantee the rights of the defense," the government said in a statement released Friday.
Ivory Coast still needs to prove to the ICC that they are willing and able to try her fairly, a claim some critics dispute. "We maintain our point of view that we do not believe that the local court can hold a fair trial. We are going to meet and try to understand what are the justifications for the government's decision," said Ouattara Ali, president of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC.
Months of violence erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo, refused to leave office despite losing the November 2010 runoff vote. The postelection conflict killed at least 3,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.
Laurent Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the ICC and is the first former head of state to be taken into custody by the court. He was arrested in Ivory Coast in April 2011 and extradited to The Hague eight months later. International Criminal Court judges have delayed a decision on whether to put him on trial, instructing prosecutors in June to beef up their case.
Prosecutors charge that he is responsible for murders, rapes and the arbitrary detention of supporters of his political rival — and now president — Alassane Ouattara in the aftermath of 2010 elections. Gbagbo, who is charged as an "indirect co-perpetrator" in the violence, insists he is innocent.
An upcoming summit of the African Union will debate the possible exit of some African countries from the International Criminal Court. Uganda's deputy foreign minister Okello Oryem has said that his country would be compelled to quit the Rome Statute that created the court if a "summit-level" recommendation is made in solidarity with the leaders of Kenya who face criminal charges at The Hague over their alleged roles in post-election violence that killed more than 1,000 people in 2007-08. They face charges of crimes against humanity, which they deny having committed.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder at the Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.