Charles Ble Goude, an ally of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by an Abidjan court for his role in the civil war following the 2010 presidential election, his lawyers said.
Ble Goude headed the notorious Young Patriots street militia during Gbagbo’s presidency.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude were acquitted last January by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of crimes against humanity during the violence, in which some 3 000 people were killed.
Ivorian prosecutors in December brought charges against Ble Goude – who remained in Europe while ICC prosecutors appeal the acquittals – for rape, torture and other crimes related to his role in the conflict. He denied the charges.
Political tensions are rising in Ivory Coast ahead of an October 2020 presidential election. President Alassane Ouattara, whose victory over Gbagbo in 2010 sparked the civil war, is expected to step down after 10 years in office, but refused to rule out running for re-election.
Ble Goude’s lawyer in The Netherlands, Geert-Jan Knoops, said the Ivorian court convicted his client on Monday.
“I am quite astonished a country that is supposed to co-operate with the ICC is not respecting the system,” Knoops said. “Once a case is before the ICC, domestic courts should abstain from prosecution for the same facts.”
Ble Goude’s lawyer in Ivory Coast, Ndry Claver, said a warrant was issued for Ble Goude’s arrest.
An official at the court in Abidjan confirmed the sentence. A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Ivory Coast extradited Ble Goude to the ICC in 2014.
Gbabgo remains in Europe pending the ICC appeal. If he is able to return to Ivory Coast in time, he could stand in the presidential election, a move Ouattara said would make him rethink plans to step down.