ABIDJAN Ivory Coast will try former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, in a domestic court, the government said following a special cabinet meeting on Friday.
Former President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to accept defeat in a late 2010 presidential runoff triggered a brief war in Ivory Coast, is currently in the ICC's custody awaiting trial for crimes committed during the post-election crisis.
The Hague-based court is under fire from African governments who say it unfairly targets Africans. But it continues to have the support of the Ivorian government, among its staunchest backers on the continent.
The government declined to hand over Simone Gbagbo when the ICC indictment, which alleged she was "criminally responsible for murder, rape, other forms of sexual violence, other inhumane acts, and persecution", was unsealed last November.
"This decision by the cabinet aims to judge Madame Gbagbo in Ivory Coast under Ivorian jurisdiction, which is today rehabilitated and able to offer her a fair and balanced trial," a statement read by government spokesman Bruno Kone said.
The government plans to introduce a motion of inadmissibility with the ICC's registrar soon, the statement said.
A spokesman for the ICC said the court had received no official confirmation of the Ivorian government's decision.
"There is a warrant for arrest issued for Simone Gbagbo and the court has requested her transfer," said Fadi El-Abdallah. "That would only change if judges decide otherwise."
Ivory Coast ratified the Rome Statute - the treaty that created the ICC - earlier this year. Spokesman Kone told Reuters that Friday's decision was in no way an indication of an ebb in the country's support for the ICC.
"The decision takes into account the improved state of the judicial system in Ivory Coast. That is the only reason. We will continue our close collaboration with the ICC. That will not change," Kone later told Reuters.
Ivory Coast must now prove it has the capacity and will to try her on the charges outlined in the ICC indictment, said Matt Wells, West Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch.
"The Ivorian government has the right to contest the ICC's intention to try Simone Gbagbo, but it is ultimately up to the ICC judges," he said.
All 18 cases so far before the ICC, which is based in Europe and largely funded by rich western countries, are against Africans, opening the court up to criticisms of neo-colonial meddling and fuelling African feelings of unfair victimization.
The cases against Kenya's president and deputy president over their alleged involvement in a wave of killings there after 2007 elections have only stoked African anger at the court.
Kenya's parliament passed a motion calling for withdrawal from the court earlier this month. African leaders will meet in Ethiopia on October 13 to take a common stance on whether to join Kenya's planned pull-out.
Simone Gbagbo was arrested along with her husband in April 2011 as fighting in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan came to an end and has since been held under house arrest in the northwestern city of Odienne. She is accused by Ivorian authorities of crimes including genocide.
(Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)