THE HAGUE, March 5, 2011 (AFP) – The International Criminal Court is ready to “move fast” against the perpetrators of crimes against civilians in Ivory Coast, its deputy prosecutor told AFP on Saturday. Seven women protesting against strongman Laurent Gbagbo were on Thursday shot by forces loyal to him and aid agencies have warned that the deteriorating situation is preventing them from helping those worst hit by the crisis. ”One thing is clear, if it (the situation) reaches the gravity threshold, definitely the ICC will move fast”, Fatou Bensouda said, describing the deaths of the women as “appalling.” ”The ICC is ready. We are collecting information, we are analysing information, and we will be ready in a very short time to move,” she said. ”The situation is grave and the Cote d’Ivoire is on the brink of civil war.” The country has been in conflict since November’s presidential election, with Gbagbo refusing to leave office in favour of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised new president.
Ministers in Ouattara’s government said Friday they were planning a resolution at the UN rights council that refers to possible probes against Gbagbo by the ICC. The court, which prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, can open an investigation on referral by the UN Security Council or a signatory state to its founding Rome Statute, or at the prosecutor’s own initiative. ”We think we have jurisdiction on the past, the current and the future alleged crimes,” said Bensouda. While the Ivory Coast is not a signatory to the statute, its government under Gbagbo had accepted the court’s jurisdiction in 2003 for crimes committed on its territory. ”It has also been accepted and confirmed by Alassane Ouattara since November of 2010.”
Bensouda quoted UN statistics that nearly 400 people had been killed since the disputed elections, and hundreds of thousands displaced. ”It is getting worse by the day,” she said. “If things are continuing on this level I think that the ICC will be moving very soon whether we have a referral or not.” She highlighted the shooting of the women protesters in Abdijan’s northern Abobo district on Thursday, allegedly by soldiers loyal to Gbagbo. ”Any attack against unarmed civilians would be a crime under ICC jurisdiction and the targeting of the most vulnerable persons, such as women and children, is a crime of even higher gravity,” said Bensouda. ”We wish to remind the perpetrators that it is our policy to pay special attention to crimes against women and children and the same is also true for attacks against peacekeepers.”
Earlier Saturday, African Union Commission chief Jean Ping arrived in Abidjan to give Gbagbo and Ouattara a “message” from African leaders to avoid a civil war in Ivory Coast. He is mandated by a panel of African heads of state tasked with finding a peaceful solution to the dispute and who have called for an end to the killings. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Gbagbo and his forces of a “callous disregard for human life”.
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