International Criminal Court judges: Case against former Ivory Coast 1st lady is admissible

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — International Criminal Court appeals judges upheld a ruling Wednesday that the court can prosecute Ivory Coast's former first lady on charges including murder and rape linked to violence that left 3,000 people dead after the country's disputed 2010 presidential election.

The ruling read in court by Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski puts more pressure on Ivory Coast officials to hand over Simone Gbagbo for prosecution in The Hague.

The ruling said that the case against Gbagbo is admissible because Ivory Coast had not proved, at the time it challenged the case's admissibility, that Ivorian authorities were investigating her for the same allegations as those she faces in The Hague. The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort that can only take action when a government cannot or will not prosecute a suspect.

Since Ivory Coast filed its challenge in 2013, a court in that country has convicted Gbagbo of undermining state security and sentenced her to 20 years' imprisonment.

The International Criminal Court appeared to leave open the possibility of Ivorian authorities filing a fresh challenge based on that conviction, saying in a statement that under the court's founding treaty, "in exceptional circumstances, the Court may grant leave for a challenge to be brought more than once."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo in 2012, the first time the court had filed charges against a woman. It said evidence suggested she was a key member of the inner circle surrounding her husband, former president Laurent Gbagbo, which planned attacks on his political opponents after he lost the 2010 election to his opponent Alassane Ouattara.

Judges who issued the warrant said that evidence submitted by prosecutors suggested Gbagbo wielded so much power that she "acted as an alter ego for her husband, exercising the power to make State decisions."

It wasn't immediately clear if authorities in Ivory Coast will now hand over Gbagbo, whose husband already is in The Hague awaiting trial on similar charges.

Human Rights Watch's senior international justice counsel, Param-Preet Singh, said Wednesday's ruling "eliminates any doubt" about Ivory Coast's "duty to surrender Simone Gbagbo to The Hague."

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