ICC issues warrant for ICoast ex-leader Gbagbo's wifeICC issues warrant for ICoast ex-leader Gbagbo's wife
The warrant on four counts of crimes against humanity was issued in February but only made public by the court on Thursday and is the first issued by the ICC for a woman.
Simone is accused of "crimes against humanity, of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhumane acts" committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, the court said.
The bloody stand-off came after Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara both claimed victory in the much-delayed November 2010 presidential election in the world's top cocoa producer.
The court said that the violence was committed as part of a "common plan... and that Mr Gbagbo's inner circle, to which Ms Gbagbo belonged, met frequently to discuss the implementation and coordination of the plan."
"Although not elected, Ms Gbagbo acted as an alter ego for her husband, exercising the power to make State decisions," the court said.
The crimes during the ethnically-tinged conflict were carried out by the Ivorian army, as well as youth militias and mercenaries loyal to Gbagbo, who is himself awaiting trial at the ICC, the court said.
The crimes were committed in commercial capital Abidjan, around the country and around the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara was then besieged by forces loyal to Gbagbo.
"They targeted civilians who they believed were supporters of Alassane Ouattara, and the attacks were often directed at specific ethnic or religious communities," the court said.
Simone Gbagbo, 63, on November 13 started testifying in Odienne, the town in north-west Ivory Coast where she has been detained for the last 18 months and faces charges including genocide and embezzlement.
Her party, the Ivorian Popular Front, on Thursday denounced the warrant issued against her by the ICC as "unjust".
"This warrant is as unjust as the one that allowed the ICC to imprison Laurent Gbagbo," Richard Kodjo, the party's secretary general, told AFP in Abidjan.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said shortly after the warrant was made public that she expected Ivory Coast to hand over its former "Iron Lady".
"We expect the Ivorian authorities to continue cooperating and to surrender Simone Gbagbo to the Court," she said, hailing the country's cooperation so far.
Her husband was handed over almost a year ago immediately after the ICC made public his arrest warrant.
Ivory Coast's new justice minister, Gnenema Coulibaly said after a cabinet meeting Thursday that the government's official response would be made public "in due time".
Sources close to the matter in Abidjan told AFP that the ICC had informed the government of the warrant against Simone shortly after it was issued in February but that Ouattara was against her transfer to The Hague because of the profoundly negative effect that her husband's transfer had on the reconciliation process.
Ouattara initially wanted the ICC to handle major cases resulting from the conflict, but has said several times in recent months that the justice system in Ivory Coast, once a beacon of wealth and stability in volatile West Africa, should now take over.
Like his wife, Laurent is also facing four counts of crimes against humanity in The Hague, including murder, rape and inhuman acts, over the post-election violence the UN said cost about 3,000 lives.
Earlier this month, international judges found Gbagbo was fit enough to stand trial but that his health may require special measures.
The ICC appointed three doctors in June to examine the former strongman at the request of his lawyers who said he was tortured during his detention last year by forces loyal to Ouattara.
Judges are now to set a date for a much-delayed confirmation of charges hearing.
The 67-year-old was arrested in April last year by followers of long-time rival Ouattara after French and UN forces cleared the way for them to enter his Abidjan palace.
He was the first head of state to be handed over to the ICC.
Rights groups have accused security forces loyal to Ouattara of abuses since he came to power, while Gbagbo supporters accuse the new government and the ICC of implementing one-sided "victor's justice".
Human Rights Watch's Ivory Coast researcher Matt Wells said Ivory Coast would have to hand Simone over or prosecute her on the same charges.
"However, the fact that charges have so far been brought against only one side, both domestically and at the ICC, leaves many of the conflict's victims still in search of justice," Wells told AFP.
"Ivorian authorities and the ICC need to make swift progress to ensure that pro-Ouattara forces implicated in grave crimes are likewise held to account."
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