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Paving the way for justice in Côte d'Ivoire

Ivoirian national police emblem changed to spell "FRCI" - the name of the new military. Adjamé District of the commercial capital, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire July 2011
(Nancy Palus/IRIN)

National and international truth, reconciliation and justice mechanisms being set up in Côte d’Ivoire must be impartial and independent to have any credibility, say analysts and rights groups. But most importantly, grassroots reconciliation efforts must guard social cohesion as their central goal. IRIN spoke to analysts to explore justice options.

Post-election violence in late 2010 killed at least 3,000 people, displaced some 500,000, and left hundreds of thousands dependent on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

A preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is under way in Côte d’Ivoire, focusing on allegations of atrocities committed between 2002 and 2005.

A separate ICC investigation, if it goes ahead, would also look into “the most serious crimes” committed since December 2010.

Côte d’Ivoire is not a signatory of the Rome Statute which allows the ICC to have jurisdiction over a country. However, on 28 June 2011 Ivoirian Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou Kouadio signed a cooperation agreement with the court, confirming the government would recognize the final results of any investigations the ICC launches - which could target both sides of the post-election battle. This acceptance of ICC jurisdiction is critical.

The ICC prosecutor has concluded there is a “reasonable basis” to open an investigation.

Opportunities, challenges

“You have to admire the current government’s endeavour to put an end to impunity,” Charles Sanga, editor of pro-government paper Le Patriote, told IRIN. “Impunity had practically become the rule in Côte d’Ivoire... One thousand and one crimes were committed under [Laurent] Gbagbo’s regime, but there was never any trial. Today, within two months of being in power, [President Alassane] Ouattara has invited the ICC, and they have already completed a preliminary investigation [visit].”

The ICC will work only if it remains independent of politics; does not undermine traditional criminal proceedings; if the timing works well with grassroots reconciliation efforts; and if those collecting evidence are well-trained and professional, human rights representatives told IRIN.

Selective justice, and official amnesia are the biggest challenges, said Patrick N’Gouan, who heads the main civil rights group collective in Côte d’Ivoire, Convention for Civil Society.

To be fair the ICC must also take into account crimes committed over the past decade. “Only if there is equality and fairness can we have reconciliation… Whatever the organization in question, an investigation must go back to at least 2002 because the Ivoirian crisis has its roots before 2010.”

The crimes committed in late 2010 were similar to those witnessed before, he said. “Perhaps not on the same scale… but… our expectations haven’t really been fulfilled, either by the public powers or by the international jurisdictions.”

Other challenges include accurately targeting the perpetrators of violence, since the degree of control that Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro had over their troops is unclear.

Indeed, it is still unclear who exactly makes up Ouattara’s Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), as many of his supporters, and opportunists, pass themselves off as force members, residents of the commercial capital Abidjan told IRIN.

Any investigation will need to bear in mind regional dynamics, said N’Gouan. High-level Gbagbo allies implicated in abuses have been variously sighted in Ghana, Senegal and Benin, according to local press reports. Liberian mercenaries are also believed to have been implicated in killings and violence n the west. Gbagbo has denied recruiting such mercenaries, according to independent Ivoirian daily L’Inter.

Truth and reconciliation commission

A Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission is currently being set up headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. The “truth” part of the commission opened on 20 July.

The commission is to be modelled on a mixture of South Africa’s post-apartheid commission, which operated on a national scale, and Rwanda’s national unity and reconciliation commissions, with their focus on reconciliation at the grass-roots level.

Following a presidential decree, the committee running it will be composed of imams and members of the Episcopalian church, as well as civil society members. “Our role is to move away from instrumentalized reconciliation. Every Ivoirian from every group must be on board for this to work,” committee spokesperson Franck Kouassi Sran told IRIN.

The commission faces the enormous task of cementing a nation that was bitterly divided along ethnic lines even before the 2002 civil uprising led to two separate administrations.

Thus far, some 150 meetings have taken place between the committee and local chiefs, NGOs, armed forces and the press, among others, Sran added.

Concrete action, not just talk

Rights groups and observers in the local media have been quick to warn against reconciliation becoming a catchphrase that hides a lack of concrete action. The Commission must not distract the government from addressing underlying issues of unemployment, crumbling basic services, and land reform, civil society representatives told IRIN.

Any work done by the committee must be impartial, they stress. “The Commission was composed by Ouattara, and the head was appointed by Ouattara. But as civil society observers, we believe that all actions towards reconciliation by the committee must be fair, consensual and transparent,” said N’Gouan.

Many who have fled the country are deeply sceptical that such a Commission could be impartial. "You're going to go to talk to a Commission, tell them how your family was killed and you want to forgive, then what?" Barakissa Ouédraogo, one of more than 100,000 Burkinabé who fled Côte d’Ivoire for Burkina Faso, told IRIN. "You return to the street because your home is flattened.

National prosecutions

As the Commission gets set up, national criminal proceedings are going ahead. Newly-appointed Public Prosecutor Simplice Kouadio Koffi has replaced the former prosecutor, Raymond Tchimou, who left the country on 31 March 2011 and has not yet returned. Tchimou was known as a Gbagbo ally, who handled contentious cases including the Trafigura scandal and the jailing of prominent cocoa barons.

This year some 15 pro-Gbagbo associates have been charged; seven international arrest warrants have been issued; and 15 senior staff from the previous regime are under house detention without charge.

No FRCI members have been arrested or detained, despite extensive reports of their involvement in war crimes and potential crimes against humanity by the Commission of Inquiry, the UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights.

Indeed, some have been elevated to senior positions within the new regime. The UN Human Rights Commission handling the investigation said: “At present, it has not been informed of credible judicial procedures against FRCI elements accused of human rights violations.”

Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, and 13 other high-level officials from the former regime are under house arrest in the north of the country. None have yet been charged by the public prosecutor.

Among them are former minister Alcide Djedje, and Philippe Henri Dacoury-Tabley, head of the central bank. They were accused of money laundering, forming armed groups and undermining state authority. Trials have yet to take place. On 9 July, all were transferred to Boundiali prison, 600km north of Abidjan.

International arrest warrants

International arrest warrants have also been issued for other members of Gbagbo’s cabinet who have since fled. The potential defendants include former Young Patriots militia leader Charles Blé Goudé; former national treasurer Djedje Mama; former presidential spokesperson Ahoua Don Mello; former minister Philippe Attey; and the ex-envoy to Israel Raymond Koudou Kessie.

The prosecutor said Charles Blé Goudé was accused of inciting ethnic violence and xenophobia. Goudé has peddled a potent xenophobic rhetoric which allegedly contributed to street riots and the evacuation of thousands of foreigners in 2004, and mobilized a mass recruitment of young men to the army as the crisis came to a head. He has been under UN sanctions since 2006.

Prosecuting those accused of atrocities could help close a painful chapter for many people across the country, some Abidjan residents told IRIN. University student Alexis, 25, who did not wish to share his surname, is one of thousands who celebrated the news of Gbagbo’s arrest. His father, a taxi driver, was kidnapped by pro-Gbagbo soldiers in December along with three other neighbours.

“To this day we don’t know why he was taken - no-one in my family cares at all for politics... My mother and five siblings still hope we’ll find him alive. The only peace I can get is to at least see some justice for him."

A UN Commission of Inquiry report presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 15 June urged impartial and transparent trials of those responsible for “grave crimes”. The Commission has a list of suspects most responsible for post-election crimes, but has chosen to keep it from the public.

The prolonged silence on the future of both Gbagbo and his wife, a key party member, is starting to attract criticism. A 1963 law aimed at preventing public unrest allows them and 13 other senior officials to be held indefinitely, but President Ouattara is under pressure to make a decision.

Gbagbo’s Paris-based lawyers say they have been denied entry to see their client and question his continued detention without trial. Lawyers for those being held in Boundiali have said their client’s transfer is “illegal” and could “considerably compromise” their rights as detainees.

Tit-for-tat justice

There appears to be a growing divide between the Ouattara government’s pledges of impartial justice for all and a selective application of that justice, according to critics.

Reconciliation in this context is “incompatible” with justice, according to Eugene Djue, a member of the National Congress of Resistance and Democracy which regroups pro-Gbagbo partisans. “If we pursue a tit-for-tat justice, there’s a risk of creating new problems. At the moment it’s as if we’re moving on from armed warfare to a cold war against Mr Gbagbo’s supporters. If we continue this way, it will be a justice of cold revenge.”

There has also been mounting anger in some circles that presidential pardons have not been issued, as Gbagbo did when he came to power in 2000. “It’s understandable when people say there must be justice, but this crisis dates from 2002. The [former rebels, now national army] New Forces have never been brought to trial; even those who authored the 1999 coup weren’t imprisoned. That’s not to say those who are currently imprisoned or in exile are innocent, but in the spirit of reconciliation, they should be pardoned,” Djue explains.

Before any cases can be heard, establishing a reasonably independent state security and judiciary apparatus, whose cores disintegrated under the weight of the conflict, will be needed.

Security reform

Security sector reform looks to be a long way off, said a UN official who preferred anonymity. Mutual suspicion remains amid two armed forces now forced to operate as one.

A clearer political vision is needed to outline what the future Ivoirian military should look like, she continued. “What type of defence forces does Côte d’Ivoire need? What role must it fulfil, and what size should it be?”

Security sector reform should entail disarming and demobilizing a significant proportion of the FRCI, and training and professionalizing others. Thousands of fighters who were once with the rebel forces are untrained, and many were implicated in unlawful killings during the violence. Youths who took up arms in late 2010 will also need to be demobilized and reintegrated into society.

The vast majority of them were poor and out of work, according to Carlos Geha, deputy head of office at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Abidjan. “There is a fundamental link between the crisis and the economy. It’s a vicious circle… If we don’t resolve this problem of unemployment, we risk finding ourselves back at square one in the next five or 10 years.”

Côte d’Ivoire experienced a severe economic crisis from the mid-1980s until the end of the 1990s, which encouraged the birth of a multiparty state, some of whose political parties thrived on economic sluggishness, according to Western diplomats. During this period youth became more impoverished and jobs harder to find, which made it easier for both sides of the political divide to compel them to take up arms, particularly in the rebel-held north.

“It is too early to say Côte d’Ivoire is no longer in crisis... There are more than 200,000 people who have fled the country and are yet to return. More than half a million are displaced. More than 200,000 depend on humanitarian assistance and will continue to depend on it until the end of the year. All the farmers and market gardeners will need continuing humanitarian assistance. The ravaged hospitals, the destroyed schools, they all need to be rebuilt,” he said.

Côte d’Ivoire will be dependent on international aid for at least another six months, Geha estimates. According to Souleymane Ouattara, an economist with the French embassy, the economy will require the support of serious financial partners, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank to rebuild.

Only within this framework of shoring up the country’s infrastructure and economic stability, can grassroots or high-level justice mechanisms work, analysts agree. But a deeper process of social reconciliation is also needed if justice outcomes are not to be violently rejected.

“The most important factor is social unity, and social unity, by definition, isn’t built up in a few months,” Jacques Seurt, head of the International Organization for Migration, told IRIN. “It takes time because it’s about changing perceptions and the fears and the hate that have accumulated over the past few years in the minds of each Ivoirian, so that each person can learn to live with his neighbours again, no matter their differences.”




This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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