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Former Ivory Coast president in international court custody

From Eric Agnero, For CNN
updated 12:36 PM EST, Wed November 30, 2011
A photo taken on April 11 shows Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone after their arrest.
A photo taken on April 11 shows Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone after their arrest.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The former president's initial court appearance is scheduled for Monday
  • The transfer of Laurent Gbagbo to The Hague is "illegal," his aide says
  • A three-party coalition says it will boycott the elections
  • Gbagbo is "the first former head of state taken into ICC custody," Human Rights Watch says

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo arrived Wednesday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to stand trial for his role in his country's post-election violence that killed thousands.

"It is exactly a year since the presidential election that led to one of the worst episodes of violence Cote d'Ivoire has ever known," said Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's chief prosecutor, using the French name for the country. "In December last year, we put Mr. Gbagbo and the others on notice. Today, we are following up."

The former president's initial appearance is scheduled for Monday, the ICC announced.

Gbagbo, 66, was flown out of the northern Ivoirian city of Khorogo, where he had been under house arrest, on an Ivoirian government airplane Tuesday evening, said his adviser, Toussaint Alain.

Alain called it an illegal transfer. "The international court has taken an illegal action. This is a political decision rather than a decision of justice," Alain said.

Rebuilding Ivory Coast's cocoa trade
Ivory Coast reforming cocoa

The action comes a week before parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Ivory Coast. Three political parties in an umbrella coalition (CNRD) with Gbagbo's Front Populaire Ivoirien issued a statement saying they would boycott the elections as a result of Gbagbo's transfer.

Last month, Moreno-Ocampo arrived in Ivory Coast to meet with government and opposition leaders and began an inquiry into the West African nation's post-election violence.

In his application to the judges for authorization to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, Moreno-Ocampo cited sources who said at least 3,000 people were killed, 72 people disappeared and 520 others were subject to arbitrary arrest and detentions since the November 28, 2010, election that resulted in the violence.

Gbagbo, the incumbent, refused to cede power even though challenger Alassane Ouattara was internationally recognized as the winner. Months of bloodshed ensued. The political stalemate was settled by Gbagbo's capture in April by forces loyal to his rival, and he has been detained in the north of Ivory Coast. Gbagbo refused to accept the results of U.N.-certified elections.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying Gbagbo is "the first former head of state taken into custody by the ICC."

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have also been subject to ICC arrest warrants, but al-Bashir has not come into ICC custody, nor did Gadhafi, who was killed in October during Libya's revolution, Human Rights Watch said.

"The ICC is playing its part to show that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape justice when implicated in grave crimes," Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The court charged Gbagbo with four counts of crimes against humanity, "namely murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts."

"This is a big day for the victims of (Ivory Coast's) horrific post-election violence," Keppler said. "That Laurent Gbagbo now has to answer to the court sends a strong message to Ivoirian political and military leaders that no one should be above the law."

CNN's Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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