The Hague: The International Criminal Court on Monday authorized an investigation into violence that left some 3,000 people dead after Ivory Coast`s disputed presidential election last year.
The violence erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara after losing the election last November.
Ouattara finally took office in May and asked the international court to investigate crimes committed by both sides during the postelection crisis.
The announcement signals the start of the court`s seventh investigation, all of them in Africa. So far, none of the cases has reached a verdict.
Ivory Coast is not a member of the court, but has accepted its jurisdiction in the case. It is the first time the court has opened an investigation in a non-member nation following such an ad-hoc recognition of jurisdiction by a non-member state.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would begin his investigation immediately.
"From today, the prosecution will collect evidence impartially and independently, and as soon as possible we will present our cases before the judges, who will ultimately decide who should face trial," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.
Monday`s decision came less than a week after Ivory Coast`s new government launched a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission that aims to find peace in the aftermath of the violence.
Moreno-Ocampo said his investigation "should be part of national and international efforts to prevent future crimes" in Ivory Coast.
Judges approved Moreno-Ocampo`s request to open an investigation into crimes committed since Nov. 28, 2010. They also asked the prosecutor to send them within a month information on possible crimes committed in Ivory Coast between 2002 and 2010, signaling they may yet broaden the scope of the investigation to include earlier violence.
Ivory Coast was once one of Africa`s most prosperous nations but has been crippled by a decade of conflict which started with a 1999 coup, followed by flawed 2000 elections which first brought Gbagbo to power. He failed to hold elections five years later.
When another five years was up last November, he refused to accept his electoral defeat, setting off a five-month-long crisis that turned the once-chic commercial capital of Abidjan into a war zone.
While the chaos and violence was first triggered by the 1999 coup, the International Criminal Court can only investigate crimes committed since it came into existence in 2002.
Among its other cases, the court has filed arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Libya`s Moammar Gadhafi. The court has no police force to execute such warrants. Prosecutions are under way of accused warlords from five other countries.