In its ruling, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Court) orders the Ivorian State to “take all necessary steps to immediately remove all obstacles preventing the Applicant [Laurent Gbagbo] from being added to the voters’ register”.
Laurent Gbagbo, who was president from 2000 to 2010, is not on the electoral roll which was updated this year, and thus cannot vote or be a candidate in the election.
In mid-September, the Ivorian Constitutional Council rejected Gbagbo’s presidential candidacy, which was submitted by his supporters, as Gbagbo himself refrained from making a pronouncement on the subject.
According to the Ivorian authorities, the Council’s ruling was in keeping with Gbagbo’s 20-year prison sentence handed down by an Ivorian court in the case involving the “robbery” of funds from the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) during the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis.
The Constitutional Council also justified its decision by arguing that Gbagbo’s presidential candidacy application hadn’t contained a statement bearing his signature. In addition, the Council said he was unable to stand for election since he had failed to relinquish his position as ex-officio member of the Constitutional Council by virtue of his status as former president of the Republic.
Gbagbo filed an application instituting proceedings with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, based in Arusha, Tanzania, which also orders the Ivorian State to “suspend the reference to the criminal conviction from the criminal record”.
Gbagbo’s lawyer, Claude Maintenon, said he is “satisfied” with the ruling, but noted that “its enforcement depends on the sound discretion of the government”.
Sidi Touré, Côte d’Ivoire’s communications minister and government spokesperson, said that the African Court “is applying its logic of undermining the sovereignty of the [Ivorian] State”. He added: “Electoral issues are a matter of national sovereignty.”
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Acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands, of crimes against humanity charges, Gbagbo, 75, is living in Belgium pending the outcome of an appeal against the ICC ruling. His lawyers maintain that he can’t return to Côte d’Ivoire because the Ivorian authorities refuse to issue him a passport.
Côte d’Ivoire’s Constitutional Council has rejected 40 of 44 applications to contest the 31 October election, including Gbagbo’s and that of former rebel commander and ex-prime minister Guillaume Soro.
The Council, however, accepted outgoing President Alassane Ouattara’s controversial application.
Over a week ago, the African Court delivered a judgement requiring Côte d’Ivoire to approve Soro’s candidacy, which was rejected by the country’s Constitutional Court on the grounds that he was sentenced to a 20-year jail term on charges of “embezzlement of public funds” and “attempted insurrection”.
“Soro, like Gbagbo, was excluded because he has a criminal record. Each of them are perfectly aware that their candidacies are based on provocation,” Ouattara told the French magazine Paris Match in an interview published last Thursday.
Political tensions are running high in Côte d’Ivoire with the presidential vote just a little over a month away. Ten years ago, following the 2010 election, the crisis provoked by Gbagbo’s refusal to recognise his defeat to Ouattara left 3,000 people dead.
In August, about 15 people were killed in violent clashes after Ouattara announced his presidential bid, which the opposition described as an “abuse of power”.
Accusing the African Court of “violating Côte d’Ivoire’s national sovereignty”, Abidjan “withdrew its declaration of jurisdiction” in April and has effectively rejected the Court’s decisions ever since.
The withdrawal took place after the African Court ordered the country to suspend legal proceedings against Soro, who had requested that the Court examine his case.
Nevertheless, the African Court’s rulings continue to be legally binding for Abidjan. In fact, the Court wrote in its judgement that the withdrawal of declaration of jurisdiction will only take effect “one year from the date of the withdrawal”, or as of April 2021.
In addition, the withdrawal merely means the Ivorian State no longer authorises the Court to “receive cases from individuals and non-governmental organisations”.
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