A hearing to decide if ex-Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo should go on trial for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in the west African country, should be held without further delay, an International Criminal Court judge said Tuesday.
"It's been a year that we have had a procedure that's not started yet. It's imperative that we have a confirmation of charges hearing as soon as possible," judge Sylvia Fernandez de Gurmendi said.
She then mooted a date in February next year as a possibility.
The former Ivorian strongman, who made his initial appearance before the Hague-based court on December 5 last year, has to face a confirmation of charges hearing at which judges will decide whether or not to put him on trial, based on prosecution evidence.
Gbagbo faces four counts of crimes against humanity -- murder, persecution, rape and other sexual violence, and other inhumane acts stemming from violence after he lost presidential polls in Ivory Coast in November 2010.
But his confirmation of charges hearing has been delayed several times, including by applications by his lawyers to appoint doctors to determine whether he was fit to stand trial and to have him released pending a possible appearance in the dock.
The ICC in June appointed three doctors to assess Gbagbo's health, at the request of his lawyers who said he was tortured during his detention last year by forces loyal to rival and current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.
The court however ruled on November 2 that he was well enough to be tried but that his health condition may require special measures. Earlier in the year it rejected the defence's request for a provisional release, saying Gbagbo posed too much of a flight risk.
The former long-time president, who first came to power in October 2000, refused to acknowledge an election loss to Ouattara, a decision that plunged the world's largest cocoa grower into its second armed conflict in a decade.
Holed up in the commercial capital Abidjan, Gbagbo was eventually ousted in April 2011, following two weeks of fierce street fighting that is estimated to have cost 3,000 lives in the west African country.
He was then moved to Korhogo in the north of the country, until he was transferred to ICC custody seven months later on the strength of an international arrest warrant.© ANP/AFP