ICC blocks Gbagbo bid to have Ivorian-based trial

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo attends a pre-trial hearing on charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on February 19, 2013 (AFP Photo/Michael Kooren) (Pool/AFP/File)

The Hague (AFP) - The International Criminal Court on Monday denied a request by former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo's lawyers to hold his trial in Abidjan, because of security risks and logistical difficulties.

The Hague-based court's decision comes after Gbagbo's lawyers last month asked for his impending trial to be moved to the southern Ivorian financial capital, or alternatively in Arusha in Tanzania.

Gbagbo, 69, and his former militia chief Charles Ble Goude are due to face the ICC on November 10 over their roles in post-election violence in the world's largest cocoa producer.

After "paying particular regard to the security risks and the logistical implications", the ICC "cannot recommend that the opening statements be held in either Abidjan or Arusha," a three-bench judge said in a court document.

"For this reason the Chamber dismisses the request," the judges said.

Gbagbo is accused of crimes against humanity after his refusal to concede defeat in 2010 elections sparked a bloody stand-off in which some 3,000 people died.

He was eventually arrested when current President Alassane Ouattara's forces, backed by the United Nations and France, overran his heavily fortified residence in Abidjan in April 2011.

Gbagbo's lawyers argued that holding the trial in Abidjan, where the former leader still commands a big following, would be in the interest of Ivorian justice and "contribute to the Court's goal of raising public awareness."

Prosecutors however pointed out that any possible benefit "would be outweighed by the security concerns, including the fact that the hearings could lead to violent demonstrations."

They added in the court document that "besides the fact that the Ivory Coast and Tanzania are on different sides of the same continent, there is no apparent connection between the two states that would make hearings in Arusha more meaningful... than hearings conducted in The Hague."

Lawyers representing victims also said a trial in Abidjan would serve no purpose.

"The request aims mostly at providing a political tribune to the accused under the guise of an opening statement," the lawyers said.

Gbagbo, who was transferred to the Hague in November 2011 is the first former head of state to be prosecuted by the ICC, the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal.