ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast's government plans to hand over a former youth leader who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, the justice minister said Thursday.
Charles Ble Goude, who also had been charged in Ivory Coast, has denied playing any role in the postelection violence that left at least 3,000 people dead in 2010-2011.
Justice Minister Mamadou Gnenema Coulibaly said authorities intend to hand over Ble Goude to the ICC instead of trying him in local courts. Coulibaly cited Ble Goude's role in provoking violence against U.N. personnel during the conflict.
"Given the harm he caused the international community, it is this community that can try him," Coulibaly said.
The ICC said in a statement that it welcomed the decision and "is ready to move forward with proceedings against him as soon as he is transferred."
Ivory Coast was brought to the brink of civil war in 2010-2011 after President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara following a presidential runoff election.
Human rights groups say Ble Goude's youth group — the Young Patriots — played a decisive role in creating a climate of terror during the postelection violence, erecting barricades and checkpoints where they attempted to identify "enemies of Ivory Coast."
An untold number of West African nationals were killed at Young Patriot-manned checkpoints, many by being "necklaced" with tires, which were then set on fire.
Until Gbagbo was forced from power in April 2011, Ble Goude held regular rallies where he used increasingly xenophobic rhetoric, which many believe incited his supporters to violence — claims that he has denied. He spent nearly two years in hiding before he was arrested in Ghana last year.
Ble Goude's lawyer Nick Kaufmann said his client "has always maintained his desire and right to be tried by his own people." He pointed to the case of former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who is set to face trial in Ivory Coast instead of being handed over to the international court, where her husband ex-President Laurent Gbagbo also awaits trial.
"The Ivorian government has now proved beyond reasonable doubt that its approach to justice is both arbitrary and politically motivated," Kaufmann said. "On the one hand, the government claims its judicial system is good enough to try Simone Gbagbo and there is, apparently, a willingness to try her. On the other hand, the government alleges that it has no desire to deal in equal fashion with Ble Goude."
Associated Press writer Mike Corder at The Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.