Laurent Gbagbo

23.04.2016 ( Last modified: 22.01.2019 )
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Laurent Gbagbo was born on 31 May 1945 near Gagnoa. He has a doctorate from a Paris university, he became a strident opponent of Côte d’Ivoire’s founding president Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

Between 1971 and 1973 and again in 1992 he was jailed for political agitation. In 1982 he formed the opposition Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and demanded a shift toward multi-party elections. He went into exile in France later the same year, returning in 1988 to step up the pressure for democratic reform. In 1990, Gbagbo and the FPI succeeded in pushing Mr Houphouet-Boigny toward Côte d’Ivoire’s first national elections since its independence.

Gbagbo was President of the FPI Parliamentary Group from 1990 to 1995 and became the country’s president in 2000.

Gbagbo’s original presidential mandate was supposed to expire on 30 October 2005, but he refused to hold new elections. Presidential elections were postponed six times until Gbagbo eventually agreed to hold them in 2010.

However, following the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo challenged the vote count, alleged fraud, and refused to stand down. Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner with 54.1% of the vote and was recognized as such by election observers, the international community, the African Union (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States.

Due to Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power, tensions mounted in the country. Gbagbo allegedly responded by launching ethnic attacks on northerners living in Abidjan. He allegedly ordered the army to close the borders and foreign news organizations were banned from broadcasting from within the country.

On 30 March 2011 the Security Council imposed targeted sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo and his close associates and in its resolution 1975 firmly condemned the violence and other violations and abuses of human rights, in particular enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, killing and maiming of children and rapes and other forms of sexual violence, noting that the International Criminal Court might decide on its jurisdiction over the situation. The United Nations Human rights Council has also appointed a team of human rights experts as members of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights committed in Côte d’Ivoire following the presidential elections of 28 November 2010.

legal procedure

Laurent Gbagbo was arrested on 11 April 2011 and detained with his wife in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan. On 13 April 2011 he was put under house arrest in Korhogo, in northern Côte d’Ivoire.

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided on his own initiative to start a preliminary examination to collect information on the alleged crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire and assess whether the situation merits the opening of a formal investigation. Côte d’Ivoire is not a state party of the Rome Statute. However, on 18 April 2003, the country made a declaration pursuant to art. 12(3) of the ICC Statute, so accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed on Ivorian territory since 19 September 2002. On 14 September 2010 President Ouattara has also confirmed by letter his acceptance of the ICC jurisdiction, especially as concerns the crimes and abuses committed since March 2004.

On 3 May 2011 Ouattara wrote again to the ICC Prosecutor, requesting him to conduct an investigation on the gravest crimes committed since 28 November 2008 in Côte d’Ivoire’s territory and to ensure that the perpetrators would be identified, prosecuted and brought to the ICC.

After the preliminary examination, the ICC Prosecutor concluded to the existence of a «reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire during the post-election violence following 28 November 2011». On 23 June 2011 he requested the Pre-Trial Chamber authorization to start an investigation.

On 18 August 2011, Gbagbo and his wife Simone were indicted by the Ivorian justice for economic crimes committed during the crisis, namely for «economic infraction, aggravated robbery, looting, embezzlement of public goods».

On 3 October 2011, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to commence an investigation in Côte d’Ivoire.

On 23 November 2011, the ICC Prosecutor delivered an international arrest warrant against Gbagbo. This is the first warrant issued in the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. The arrest warrant was notified to Gbagbo by the General Prosecutor of Côte d’Ivoire on 29 November 2011, and concerns his criminal responsibility as indirect co-perpetrator for the crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, other inhumane acts and persecution committed in the territory of Côte d’Ivoire during the period between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011.

On 29 November 2011, during the night, Gbagbo was transferred to the ICC in The Hague.

On 25 May 2012, Gbagbo contested the ICC jurisdiction over him for a number of reasons. In particular, according to his lawyers, declarations pursuant to art. 12(3) of the Statute should have a limited effect in time, and therefore the 2003 Cote d’Ivoire declaration cannot be used to establish jurisdiction over the 2010-2011 events, in which the former president is allegedly implicated. On the other hand, Ouattara’s 2010 and 2011 letters to the ICC could not be considered valid declarations pursuant to art. 12(3) of the Statute. Moreover, Gbagbo alleged the illegality of the circumstances surrounding his arrest and transfer to the Court.

On the 24 and 25 September 2012, the Pre-Trial Chamber held a closed-door hearing to determine if Gbagbo was fit enough to stand trial. On 2 November 2012 the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC decided that Laurent Gbagbo was fit to stand trial. However, some practical adjustments were to be made, such as shorter sessions, facilities for him to rest during breaks, etc.

On 11 June 2013, the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC rejected the challenge to the admissibility raised by Gbagbo’s Defence on 15 February 2013. In the absence of any tangible proof of showing that active steps have been taken at the national level, the case is still admissible before the ICC.

On 12 June 2014, after having received additional submissions of evidence and observations by the Prosecution, the Defence and the victims’ representative, the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC confirmed by majority charges of crimes against humanity against Gbagbo, namely murder, rape, other inhumane acts and persecution. Indeed, the Chamber found that there was sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Gbagbo was criminally responsible for the crimes against humanity as referred to in the Rome Statute. Gbagbo has been committed for trial before a Trial Chamber constituted by the Presidency of the ICC.

On 11 March 2015, the Trial Chamber of the ICC granted the Prosecution’s request to join Gbagbo’s case to that of Charles Blé Goudé, militant activist and right-hand man of Gbagbo during the post-electoral crisis. Indeed, as the two accused were facing charges arising from the same allegations, the two cases were combined to ensure the efficacy and expeditiousness of the proceedings.

His trial opened on 28 January 2016 in the international criminal Court. Gbagbo and his co-accused Charles Blé Goudé pled not guilty of murders, rapes, inhuman acts and persecutions.

On 15 January 2019, the ICC acquitted the two accused of all charges and ordered their released from the ICC premises. The Trial Chamber I ruled that that the Prosecutor has failed to demonstrate several core constitutive elements of the crimes as charged, including the existence of a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power, which included the commission of crimes against civilians.

On 16 January 2019, the Trial Chamber I considered that there were not exceptional circumstances that would justify maintaining Gbagbo and Gouldé in detention during the appeal proceedings. The prosecutor appealed this decision.

On 18 January 2019, the Appeal Chamber ruled that Gbagbo and Gouldé should remain in detention until the 1st of February, date of the hearing which while statute on whether they should remain in detention or be released during the appeal proceedings.


Laurent Gbagbo is the first former Head of State to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Indeed, the former president of Sudan Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir wasn’t arrested yet despite of the two ICC arrest warrants against him, and the former leader of Libya Muammar Gaddafi died before the end of the procedure.

The jurisdiction of the ICC can be triggered by a State Party to the Statute or by the Security Council referring a situation to the ICC, mandated under its “Chapter VII powers” in the Charter of the United Nations. After the ICC’s jurisdiction has been triggered as follows, it is up to the prosecutor to determine whether or not an investigation should be opened. The ICC’s jurisdiction can also be invoked, like in Gbagbo’s case, by the Prosecutor acting on her/his own independent initiative (proprio motu).

Further to the referral the Rome Statute requires that a preliminary examination be conducted to assess if the situation merits the opening of a formal investigation. If, after the assessment, the Prosecutor concludes that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, he may then request to the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue a summons to appear or an arrest warrant against those suspected to have committed the crimes under investigation.