Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Monday declared an amnesty for Simone Gbagbo, who had been convicted of offences against the state during a brief 2011 civil war.
Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, was one of 800 citizens that Ouattara said he had pardoned, in a state address broadcast live on TV.
She had been tried and convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Last year, an Abidjan court acquitted her of crimes against humanity and war crimes linked to her role in the 2011 civil war that killed about 3,000 people. Human Rights groups criticized that decision.
“Because of my commitment to peace and true reconciliation, I proceeded to sign this day an amnesty order … which will benefit 800 of our citizens,” Ouattara said in the address that seemed to be aimed at cooling political tensions.
Ivory Coast is Francophone West Africa’s largest, most successful and diverse economy. But its combustible politics – turbocharged by ongoing ethnic and land disputes and scores to settle from a decade-long crisis – makes an election scheduled for 2020 potentially perilous.
Besides Simone Gbagbo, another beneficiary was Kamagate Souleymane, a former rebel when Laurent Gbagbo was in power, and who is close to national assembly leader Guillaume Soro.
Soro’s rebel movement claims credit for helping Ouattara come to power after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in an election, triggering the short but brutal 2011 civil war for which Laurent Gbagbo is currently on trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Political tensions are heating up ahead of elections in 2020. Ouattara’s ruling RDR coalition has fallen out with the coalition’s junior partner, the PDCI, whose leader expelled party members named to a new Cabinet last month.
There have also been doubts over whether Ouattara will step down after two terms, as required by the constitution, although in his address on Monday he repeated a remark made last month that he would “work to transfer power to a new generation”.