By Alexis Adele and Carley Petesch, AP
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — An Ivory Coast court on Tuesday found former first lady Simone Gbagbo not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity after a trial on her alleged role in post-election abuses that led to the deaths of thousands.
Judge Kouadio Bouatchi, with the country’s highest criminal court, said a jury unanimously voted to free Gbagbo. The prosecution had asked for a life sentence, saying she participated on a committee that organized abuses against supporters of her husband’s opponent after the 2010 election. More than 3,000 people were killed after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara.
Simone Gbagbo, however, still must serve 20 years in prison after being found guilty in 2015 of offenses against the state. She also has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, but Ivory Coast has refused to transfer her. The former president’s ICC trial began in January.
Tuesday’s acquittal was a surprise for many. Simone Gbagbo did not attend the trial in protest and was not present for the verdict.
“I’m disappointed and sad for the victims today. Only international justice can fight against impunity, it seems. We can no longer trust Ivorian justice,” said Issiaka Diaby, president of the association for victims of the crisis.
Lawyer Soungalo Coulibaly did not immediately say if they would appeal.
Human rights groups have criticized Ivory Coast for conducting an incomplete investigation into Simone Gbagbo’s role and for refusing to transfer her to the ICC in violation of the country’s legal obligation under the Rome Statute that created the court.