Opposition parties and multi-party elections were not legalized in Gabon until 1990. President Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for over four decades until his death in 2009, was succeeded by his son Ali Bongo after he won a contested election that raised concerns about the transparency of Gabon’s political process. Allegations of elections fraud surfaced again when Bongo won the presidential election in August 2016. Following violent outbursts between opposing political parties, the government of Gabon on 21 September 2016 referred the situation on its territory to the ICC Prosecutor, who announced the opening of a preliminary examination on 29 September 2016.
The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) announced a preliminary examination in Gabon on 29 September 2016, shortly after the government of Gabon officially referred the situation to the Court in a 21 September letter. The OTP is assessing whether alleged crimes committed after May 2016, including in the context of the 2016 presidential elections, may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide under the Rome Statute, and whether national investigations and prosecutions into relevant cases are genuine.
Gabon has an obligation, as an ICC member state, to provide comprehensive cooperation to the Court in order for it effectively carry out its mandate.
In 2010, Gabon ratified the ICC cooperation and access treaty – the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the ICC. In the same year, provisions on cooperation with the ICC were incorporated into Gabon’s new Code of Criminal Procedure.
According to these provisions, Gabon must cooperate fully with ICC investigations and prosecutions: the chief prosecutor in Gabon must accept ICC requests for mutual assistance; and he or she must respond to an ICC request for arrest and surrender by seeking, arresting, and incarcerating the wanted suspect.
Civil society has long welcomed Gabon's membership in the African, Caribbean and Pacific community (ACP), and its support for relations between the ACP and European Union, as a sign of the country's investment in the ICC as a mechanism for peace and international justice. Gabon must take the next crucial step and fully implement Rome Statute crimes into its domestic legal order.