The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague on Tuesday acquitted former Ivory Coast president, Laurent Gbagbo of war crimes and dismissed all the charges brought against him in connection to the bloody 2011 post-election violence in the West African country.
The judges also ordered the immediate release of the 73-year-old Gbagbo together with his erstwhile minister and right-hand man, Charles Ble Goude.
The pair hugged each other after the decision was handed down while their supporters clapped and cheered wildly in the public gallery of the court, prompting the head judge, Cuno Tarfusser to order them to sit down and behave.
“The chamber by majority hereby decides that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard,” Tarfusser told the court.
The pair each faced four charges of crimes against humanity over the 2010-2011 bloodshed in which around 3,000 people were killed.
Prosecutors had argued that Gbagbo and the 47-year-old Ble Goude had clung to power by all means after the former president was narrowly defeated by his bitter rival and incumbent president of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara at the elections.
The judges said there was no evidence of a common plan to foment violence in the world’s largest cocoa-producing nation. Their release was however suspended until Wednesday to give the prosecution time to respond to the shock judgment.
Gbabgo, a former university professor turned activist spent much of the 1980s in exile in France. He lost the 1990 presidential election in Ivory Coast and spent six months in prison in 1992 for his role in student protests.
He came to power in 2000 in a flawed poll that he himself described as a calamity but he then put off holding another election for a decade. In the 2010 race, Gbagbo came top in the first round with 38% of the vote before losing to Ouattara in the runoff.
The ICC had severally been accused of being one-sided as it did not bring any charges against pro-Ouattara commanders who were also accused of abuses.
Ouattara, who was re-elected in 2015 has also been accused by his opponents of using the ICC to silence opposition.