Ivory Coast and the ICC: Will justice ever be even-handed?

The Economist

The extradition of one of the president’s foes poses awkward questions for him

ON MARCH 22nd Charles Blé Goudé (pictured), an Ivorian widely known as the “street general”, was flown from the Ivory Coast to The Hague, to be charged at the International Criminal Court (ICC), alongside his patron, Laurent Gbagbo, the previous Ivorian president, with four counts of crimes against humanity. Mr Blé Goudé is alleged to have masterminded an ethnic pogrom after Mr Gbagbo’s defeat at the polls in 2010. Mr Blé Goudé had been in prison in the Ivory Coast for 14 months at the behest of its current president, Alassane Ouattara, following a year-and-a-half on the run.

In the aftermath of the election, thousands of Ivorians were killed. Many were said by Mr Blé Goudé’s and Mr Gbagbo’s opponents to have been doused in petrol and set alight by thugs. But Mr Blé Goudé’s friends have denounced his extradition as illegal and politically motivated.

Mr Blé Goudé was catapulted to prominence in the 1990s as the leader of the Ivorian students’ organisation, known as FESCI, later described in diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks as “a mafia-like organisation” that brought kidnapping, extortion and rape to Ivorain campuses. Mr Blé Goudé, now 42, went on to launch his own equally violent outfit, the Young Patriots, in 2001. After Mr Gbagbo’s downfall in 2011 and Mr Blé Goudé’s flight to neighbouring Ghana, the Young Patriots continued to terrorise parts of Abidjan, the country’s main city, roughing up anyone whose religion, colour or tribe they disliked.

For months Mr Ouattara’s government hesitated to accede to the ICC’s request for Mr Blé Goudé’s extradition to The Hague, arguing that it wanted the “street general” to face justice at home. But the publication earlier this month of photographs (said by the government to be fake) purporting to show a haggard Mr Blé Goudé rotting in his cell elicited protests by his supporters. Packing him off to the Netherlands was the quickest and easiest way for Mr Ouattara and his interior minister to solve the problem, says Rinaldo Depagne of International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank. The furore sparked by the photographs showed that even in jail Blé Goudé was “still dangerous”, he says.

Whether or not he is found guilty at The Hague, justice in the Ivory Coast has hardly been even-handed in the three years of Mr Ouattara’s presidency so far. Troops loyal to the new man have carried out their own massacres of Gbgabo supporters, yet none has been properly investigated. Indeed, Mr Ouattara probably faces more of a threat from the coalition of warlords and strongmen who helped sweep him into power than from the fractured remnants of Mr Gbagbo’s party.

The ICC is reported to have drafted arrest warrants for three of Mr Ouattara’s allies, some of them senior figures in the new order. But the president fears that letting such people be extradited could shatter his own fragile coalition. How he handles this tricky issue may well define his legacy.

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