Ivory Coast leader announces amnesty for Simone Gbagbo, hundreds of others

  • 7 Aug 2018

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara on Monday declared an amnesty for 800 people, including Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo. She was convicted for offences against the state during a brief 2011 civil war.

Ivory Coast's then President Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone at a funeral in Abidjan in memory of 19 football fans who were killed with another 130 injured at a World Cup qualifying match between Ivory Coast and Malawi. April 1, 2009 ( AFP )

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Monday announced amnesties for around 800 people, including former first lady Simone Gbagbo who is currently behind bars, in the name of national reconciliation.

Last week Ivory Coast's Supreme Court overturned an earlier acquittal granted to Gbagbo for crimes against humanity.

The wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, in power from 2000 to 2010, will "soon be freed," Ouattara said during a televised address to the West African nation on the eve of the country's independence day.

Ivory Coast was plunged into political violence in the aftermath of a bitterly contested presidential election that pitted Gbagbo against Ouatarra, who eventually won out.

Simone Gbagbo has been serving a 20-year sentence handed to her in 2015 for "endangering state security" for her role in the political violence.

Ivory Coast's former first lady Simone Gbagbo was convicted for her role in the 2011 civil war. Here, she arrives at court in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on May 31, 2016.(Reuters)

She had been accused of involvement in the 2011 shelling of a market in a district of the capital Abidjan that supported Ouattara and for being a member of a "crisis cell" that allegedly co-ordinated attacks by the armed forces and militias in support of her husband.

Laurent Gbagbo has been in detention at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for seven years.

Since 2016, he has been tried for alleged crimes against humanity during post-election unrest in 2010.

Ivory Coast's then Defence Minister Lida Kouassi during a news conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa, January 8, 2001.(AP Archive)

Flawed reconciliation

Among the others granted amnesty by Ouattara on Monday was former defence minister Lida Kouassi, a key ally of Laurent Gbagbo. Kouassi was sentenced this year to 15 years for conspiracy. Former construction minister Assoa Adou, jailed in 2017 for four years, was also amnestied.

"On Monday I signed an amnesty order that will benefit about 800 citizens prosecuted or sentenced for offences related to the post-election crisis of 2010 or state security offences committed after May 21, 2011 [the date of Ouattara's inauguration]," the president said in his address.

Around 500 of those named have already been released provisionally from detention, he added. They will have their criminal records erased.

The other 300 will be released "soon," he added, without giving any dates.

The question of national reconciliation in Ivory Coast, or the lack of it, has been seen by observers as a black mark against Ouattara.

About 3,000 people died in the turmoil that swept Abidjan, once one of Africa's most cosmopolitan cities, in the aftermath of the November 2010 presidential polls when Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat by Ouattara.

A confidential report from EU ambassadors in the Ivory Coast, seen by AFP last week, said the lack of reconciliation was a "major flaw."

"National reconciliation," the diplomats warned, "... seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of impunity and amnesia."

With fresh presidential elections due to be held in 2020, there are fears a lack of progress in bringing political opponents together could spark fresh violence. Some are seeing Ouatarra's amnesty as an attempt to address such concerns.

Ouatarra also vowed to "strengthen social programmes" and "intensify the fight against corruption" in his speech.