On Thursday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) commenced a preliminary examination in Gabon over the post-electoral violence that rocked the state. This came after the Gabonese government sent a referral to ICC on September 21, requesting the prosecutor to ‘open an investigation without delay’ regarding the situation in the state.
The chief prosecutor of ICC, Fatou Bensouda, stated that the court will conduct a preliminary examination, which will reveal whether the criteria for opening a formal investigation are met or not. She noted that her office will examine the available information regarding the crimes that were allegedly committed by any group or faction.
“In accordance with the requirement of the Rome Statute, my Office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met. A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute.
“My office will examine information regarding crimes allegedly committed by any groups or individuals involved in the situation,” she stated.
In the referral letter to the ICC that was signed by Gabon’s Justice Minister Denise Mekamne Edzidzie, the government accused the opposition party, led by Mr. Jean Ping, of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. The letter stated that during Ping’s electoral campaign, he called on his supporters ‘to get rid of the cockroaches’.
“These words were an incitement to commit the crime of genocide,” the letter says.
The post-electoral crisis in Gabon
On August 31, violence erupted in the capital city of Libreville when Mr. Ali Bongo was announced as the winner of the presidential election in the state. Angry protesters set the country’s parliament ablaze, believing that the election was rigged.
Jean Ping believed that he won the election and he has declared himself as president-elect. He said that it is absurd for Bongo to call for a peace talk.
Ping said, “How can it be that the one who did not win the election should call the winner to a dialogue with him? That’s the world upside down. Plus, could you ask someone to a dialogue under the threat of a revolver, with Mirage planes flying low and terrorising civilians, with combat helicopters buzzing over the city, with continuing arbitrary arrests, detentions, and killings? Can you ask anybody to a dialogue in that way? You obviously see that’s a farce.”
From a critical point of view, ICC’s intervention in Gabon’s post-electoral violence has several meanings. One could assert that the government of Gabonese Republic is referring the case to ICC mainly to intimidate the opposition leader, Jean Ping. This because, being the first to request ICC’s intervention, it is able to shape the narrative of the crisis. In the same vein, the government is able to paint the opposition party as the perpetrator of crimes against humanity, while it is silent on the crimes committed by its own forces. For instance, the opposition party’s headquarter was attacked by the state security forces.
In addition, if ICC finally launches its investigation, the opposition party will be distracted. This implies that the incumbent government will have no distraction from Jean Ping’s party. It is necessary to note that the opposition party might be forced to be on the defensive because they will be busy defending themselves from the allegations leveled against them. In doing this, the party might likely disintegrate and that further weakens it.
More so, the intervention of ICC questions the result of the election. ICC will only base its investigation on the post-electoral violence but the result of the election could be reviewed if need be.