The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled on Friday to reject the exclusion of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from the upcoming presidential elections of October 31 — ordering the Ivorian state to “take all necessary measures to immediately remove all obstacles” hindering his participation in the race as his lack of signature on the candidacy bid – filed by supporters on his behalf given his current exile in Belgium, saw The Ivorian Constitutional Council find it inamissible.
The Court also ordered the Ivorian state to “suspend the mention of the criminal conviction of the criminal record” of Gbagbo and had already passed a similar ruling — condemning the Ivorian state for another opponent, former rebel leader and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, whose candidacy had also been rejected by the Constitutional Council after a court conviction.
Acquitted at a court of first instance of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, Gbagbo, 75, is awaiting a possible appeal in Belgium to be able to return to his native Côte d’Ivoire — whose authorities refuse, according to his lawyers, to issue him a passport.
Supporters of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, who lives in Belgium after being tried by the International Criminal Court, on Monday filed his candidacy for October’s presidential election.
Gbagbo, who was freed conditionally by the ICC after he was cleared in 2019 of crimes against humanity, had been barred by the country’s electoral commission from running.
“We have just submitted the candidacy file of our political leader, president Laurent Gbagbo, the father of democracy in Ivory Coast who we have applied to be our candidate for the presidential election,” said Georges-Armand Ouegnin, president of the pro-Gbagbo coalition called Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS).
The October 31 election in the world’s top cocoa grower is set to be tense after years of political turbulence and civil war, and Gbagbo’s return to national politics is highly sensitive.
The country remains scarred by a conflict that erupted after the 2010 vote when Gbagbo refused to hand over power to the victor, current President Alassane Ouattara. Around 3,000 people lost their lives in several months of violence.
Gbagbo, who has not made any public statement about whether he wishes to run again, is living in Brussels pending the outcome of an appeal against the ICC ruling.
In the meantime, he can travel, provided the country of destination accepts him.
Struck from electoral lists Independent Electoral Commission chief Ibrahime Coulibaly-Kuibiert has said that anyone convicted of a crime would be struck from the electoral lists for the ballot.
Gbagbo, 75, was sentenced in absentia to a 20-year term last November for the looting of the local branch of the Central Bank of West African States during the post-election crisis.
In theory he could be jailed if he were to set foot in Ivory Coast, which makes any return a hot-button issue in the election run-up.
Ouegnin said the decision to block Gbagbo from running was political, while judicial sources said they believe his candidacy is unlikely to be validated.
“The Constitutional Council will have the heavy responsibility before the Ivorian people and history to decide on the validity” of blocking him from the electoral roll, said Ouegnin.
He called for the release of all political prisoners and the return of political exiles including Gbagbo.
The 2020 election is already set to be tense.
Violence erupted after Ouattara’s announcement he is seeking a third term, claiming the lives of at least eight people in August.
The constitution limits presidents to two terms, but Ouattara and his supporters argue that a 2016 constitutional tweak reset the clock.
Candidates have until midnight Monday to submit their files with the electoral commission.
Relatives of the former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, forced into self-imposed exile in France in the face of a long list of legal problems at home, are expected to submit his candidacy on Monday.
Former president Henri Konan Bedie, 86, who also contested the 2010 election, is also expected to run.