International Criminal Court: Investigation of Ivory Coast Situation Is Authorized

On October 3, 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Prosecutor to conduct an investigation of the situation in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivorie) for possible crimes against humanity and war crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction since November 28, 2010.[1]

Ivory Coast has been in turmoil since a coup in 1999 and a flawed 2000 election in which Laurent Gbagbo was elected president for a five-year term. Gbagbo, however, failed to hold an election in 2005 and was still in office when an election was held in November 2010. He was defeated in that election by Alassane Outtara, but Gbagbo refused to turn over power to Ouattara. Thereafter there was armed conflict between supporters of the two men that is the focus of the now authorized ICC investigation. In that conflict approximately 3,000 people were killed, and 500,000 people fled into neighboring countries. In April 2011 Gbagbo was forcibly removed from office and arrested with the help of French and U.N. military forces (In May Ouattara was formally inaugurated as president.) This August, Gbagbo and his wife were charged with looting, armed robbery and embezzlement by the country’s prosecutor.[2]

The Ivory Coast situation is an excellent illustration of the checks and balances within the ICC. One of the ways an investigation can be started by the ICC Prosecutor is on his own initiative (proprio motu), but that can happen if and only if a three-judge Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes the investigation, which is what just happened with the Ivory Coast.[3]

Such authorization is not automatic and cannot be presumed.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision to authorize the Ivory Coast investigation is an 86-page careful analysis of the many legal conditions that must be satisfied for such an authorization. It concludes with a statement that one of the three judges will be filing a separate and partially dissenting opinion.[4]

The first condition was ICC jurisdiction over the Ivory Coast. It is not a State Party to the Court’s Rome Statute, but in April 2003 it submitted a declaration to the Court that the country accepted ICC jurisdiction for crimes on its territory since September 19, 2002 and for an unspecified period of time thereafter. The validity of this declaration was confirmed in a December 2010 letter from President-elect Ouattara, who pledged full cooperation with the Court in particular for crimes after March 2004. In addition, in May 2011 President Ouattara sent a letter to the Court in which he said that he believed crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction had been committed since the elections of 2010 and requested the ICC’s assistance in prosecuting perpetrators of such crimes. Therefore, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the Court had jurisdiction over the situation in the Ivory Coast.[5]

The Pre-Trial Chamber then considered the materials regarding possible crimes committed by the pro-Gbagbo forces and concluded that there was reason to believe that they had committed crimes against humanity by murder, rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances and torture and other inhumane acts.[6] The pro-Gbagbo forces also had been shown possibly to have committed war crimes in an armed conflict not of an international character by murders, intentional attacks on civilian populations and U.N. personnel, rape and sexual violence.[7]

The Pre-Trial Chamber also considered whether pro-Ouattara forces had committed similar crimes and concluded that there was reason to believe that they had. Their possible crimes against humanity were murder, rape and imprisonment and deprivation of liberty. Their possible war crimes were murder, rape, pillage, torture and other cruel treatment.[8]

The Pre-Trial Chamber emphasized that the authorization included continuing crimes after the Prosecutor’s application to the Chamber on June 23, 2011.[9] The Prosecutor also was asked in one month to submit additional materials for possible crimes in the Ivory Coast from 2002 (when the ICC commenced operations) through 2010.[10]

Last month President Ouattara appointed 11 people to the country’s new Commission on Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation. Although modeled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is unclear if it will be issuing amnesties and pardons.[11]

This Commission’s goals might be seen as conflicting with the ICC’s investigation and possible prosecution of people for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country, but immediately after the Pre-Trial Chamber’s authorization of the ICC investigation, its Prosecutor stated that the investigation “should be part of national and international efforts to prevent future crimes in [the country” and that the Commission “would be a central piece of such efforts. National authorities could define other activities to help the victims, ensure peaceful coexistence and prevent future violence. Promoting justice and reconciliation . . . must be our common endeavour.”[12]

This is the Court’s seventh investigation, all from Africa. Three of the others are by submissions from States Parties: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Two are from submissions from the U.N. Security Council: Darfur (Sudan) and Libya. The other, Kenya, was another Pre-Trial Chamber approval of an investigation initiated by the Prosecutor.[13]


[1] Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorization of an Investigation into the Situtation in the Republic of Cote d’Ivorie, (ICC Pre-Trial Ch. Oct. 3, 2011); ICC, Press Release: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber III authorizes the Prosecutor to launch an investigation in Cote d’Ivorie (Oct. 3, 2011); Assoc. Press, Int’l Court IJs Ivory Coast Violence Probe, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Prosecutor Seeks To Open Investigation of Ivory Coast (May 23, 2011).

[2] Id.; Nossiter, Sayare & Bukefsky, Leader’s Arrest in Ivory Coast Ends Standoff, N.Y. Times (April 11, 2011); BBC, Ivory Coast reconciliation commission launched, BBC News (Sept. 6, 2011).

[3] Post: International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Prosecutor Seeks To Open Investigation of Ivory Coast (May 23, 2011).

[4] Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorization of an Investigation into the Situtation in the Republic of Cote d’Ivorie, (ICC Pre-Trial Ch. Oct. 3, 2011).

[5]  Id. ¶¶ 10-15.

[6]  Id. ¶¶ 51-91.

[7]   Id. ¶¶ 127-153.

[8]  Id. ¶¶ 95-116, 157-172.

[9]  Id. ¶¶ 3, 179.

[10]  Id. ¶ 213.

[11]  BBC, Ivory Coast reconciliation commission launched, BBC News (Sept. 6, 2011);BBC, Ivory Coast gets truth and reconciliation commission, BBC News (Sept. 28, 2001);Ivory Coast launches reconciliation panel,al Jazeera.net (Sept. 28, 2011).

[12] ICC, Press Release: ICC Prosecutor: This decision ensures justice for victims in Cote d’Ivoire. I will conduct effective, independent and impartial investigations, (Oct. 3, 2011).

[13]  Post: International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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