Côte d’Ivoire’s post-electoral crisis, 11 years on: victims forgotten, justice sacrificed

19/07/2022
Report
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Issouf Sanogo / AFP

Paris, Abidjan, 14 July 2022 — The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme (Lidho) and the Mouvement ivoirien des droits humains (MIDH) have published a report (available only in French) titled Côte d’Ivoire: From justice sacrificed in the name of ’reconciliation’ to justice instrumentalised by politics. Analysing information collected over a year, including during an international mission to Abidjan in December 2021, the report sheds light on the worrying state of justice in the country since the 2010-2011 crisis, the lack of prospects for justice at the international level, and the expectations of victims and survivors of international crimes in the face of persistent impunity.

The crisis began when the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to hand over power to President-elect Alassane Ouattara after the November 2010 presidential elections. In the five months of violence and armed conflict that ensued, at least 3,000 people were killed and over 150 women raped. Armed forces on both sides sometimes targeted civilians on the basis of their political, ethnic, or religious affiliation.

Based on an analysis of the evolution of the judicial management of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis by the Ivorian authorities over the past 11 years, the joint report by FIDH, MIDH, and LIDHO demonstrates and denounces:
- how the authorities have frustrated efforts to bring justice for the crimes of the post-election crisis;
- the extent to which political power has interfered in judicial matters.

2010-2015: renewed commitments, establishment of mechanisms, important judicial work carried out

The aftermath of Alassane Ouattara’s election and the first few years of his first term were shaped by repeated commitments to fight impunity and ensure impartial justice. Mr Ouattara proclaimed that the Ivorian state was "at the dawn of a new era of hope" in building the rule of law. In May 2011, he declared: "Justice will be the same for all... There are no exceptions, there is no discrimination, the law is the same for all."

This commitment has been translated into the establishment of several mechanisms to establish the facts and contribute to reconciliation: the Cellule spéciale d’enquête (Special Investigation Unit) in June 2011 (which became the permanent Cellule spéciale d’enquête et d’instruction, or Special Investigation and Investigation Unit, in January 2014), the Commission nationale d’enquête et la Commission dialogue, vérité et réconciliation (CDVR, National Commission of Inquiry and the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission), both created in July 2011, and the Commission nationale pour la réconciliation et l’indemnisation des victimes (CONARIV, National Commission for Reconciliation and Compensation of Victims) in March 2015.

"After years of work, until August 2018, the Special Investigation Unit has indicted over 150 people for blood crimes, including allies of both Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo. FIDH, LIDHO, and MIDH have contributed to this work as civil parties and have particularly welcomed the legal action concerning various episodes of the crisis in Abidjan and in the interior of the country," declared Drissa Traoré, FIDH secretary-general.

"Today, we observe that most proceedings have come to a halt; responsibilities have not been clearly determined; the overwhelming majority of the alleged perpetrators, benefiting from amnesty, have not been held to account before the courts; and the victims have been neglected. The cycle of impunity continues."

Drissa Traoré, FIDH secretary-general

2015-2018: Commitments abruptly slowed and then brushed aside by 2018 amnesty

However, in 2015, shortly before his re-election for a second term, a major shift began. This gave victims and civil society the impression that the Ivorian government — and President Ouattara himself — were no longer motivated by the same political will to support the judicial proceedings underway, both nationally and internationally, particularly those concerning pro-Ouattara military commanders whose troops are suspected of having committed numerous cases of sexual violence and targeted killings during the crisis.

On 6 August 2018, contradicting all his commitments to justice made since 2010, President Ouattara granted amnesty to 800 people — possibly including those suspected of the most serious crimes — charged or convicted of crimes related to the 2010-2011 crisis or the subsequent attacks on the state.

"Since 2018, FIDH, MIDH and LIDHO have spoken out against this decision and emphasise that amnesty must not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses. Not only is it contrary to the obligations of the Ivorian state, which has ratified the major international and regional human rights treaties, but it is also a decision that shows contempt for the victims by allowing alleged perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to escape prosecution."

Willy Neth, LIDHO president

Since 2018, priority has been given to reconciliation at all costs, against a backdrop of the instrumentalisation of justice

The hopes of the public, survivors, and families of victims of crimes committed during the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011 have been progressively dashed by a constant weakening of the political will to fight impunity, as manifested at the end of the crisis. On 6 March 2021, Alassane Ouattara, who was entering his third presidential term, stated: "I hope that the unfortunate episodes of the 2010 and 2020 presidential elections will be definitively behind us," thus reinforcing civil society’s fear that victims’ demands for justice would be neglected for the sake of national reconciliation policy that prioritises forgiveness.

At the same time, our organisations have observed an increased instrumentalisation of the judiciary by the government, marked by differentiated judicial treatment, varying according to the context and those targeted, and by judicial harassment against certain members of the opposition.

The last presidential elections in 2020 and the first year of Alassane Ouattara’s third term in 2021 have illustrated how the judiciary has been used as a tool of control and power under the influence of the executive. The prosecution of political opponents, including Guillaume Soro and Pascal Affi N’Guessan and their colleagues, are clear examples of the manipulation of the judiciary for political purposes and have caused a strong regional and international stir. The judicial persecution of these political opponents of President Ouattara coincided with the 2020 electoral campaign.

The few random releases that followed the convictions in 2020 and 2021 are not reassuring, as they do not meet the criteria of the rule of law. They are meant to be a symbol of the government’s conciliatory will, and a justification for efforts towards national reconciliation, but they are not based on due process and do not guarantee the rights of the victims.

"After our many meetings during two international missions in December 2021 and July 2022, it is undeniable that the watchword in Côte d’Ivoire is reconciliation, and that justice is not being done for the victims of international crimes committed during the 2010-2011 crisis. The Ivorian government has a duty to ensure that reconciliation is not synonymous with forgetting and impunity, but rather with truth, common and shared recognition, and justice and reparation for the victims."

Alexis Deswaef, FIDH vice-president, honorary president of Belgium's {Ligue des droits humains}, and head of mission

The report concludes with a list of targeted recommendations to the Ivorian state and international actors to address the needs of victims and the enduring impunity in the country.

Background

During two international missions, conducted from 6 to 10 December 2021 and from 11 to 14 July 2022, our organisations met with representatives of the national authorities, civil society, diplomats, and international partners, to discuss issues related to the national reconciliation process, specifically, the situation of victims of serious human rights violations and the state of the justice system.

Regarding the work done by the Special Investigation Unit, until August 2018, it has indicted more than 150 people for blood crimes, including allies of Ouattara as well as Gbagbo. For the Duékoué attack in March 2011, for example, where more than 300 people were killed by pro-Ouattara forces, some 20 people are implicated. About 20 people have also been charged for the repression of demonstrations in Abidjan by pro-Gbagbo defence and security forces. Several dozen people from both the Gbagbo and Ouattara camps have been charged for attacks in Yopougon, a commune of Abidjan, during the post-election crisis and more than 80 people for the attack on the Nahibly camp for displaced persons in 2012, including dozo hunters, civilians and members of the Ivorian army.

Following the Ivorian National Assembly’s adoption in December 2018 of a law confirming the amnesty decreed by presidential order in August of the same year, almost all other judicial proceedings concerning crimes committed during the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis were suspended.

Our organisations, which are civil parties in these proceedings and represent 250 victims, believe that the victims currently have no recourse at the national level. Dozens of alleged perpetrators of crimes under international law, including senior military officials, have been formally implicated and charged.

The lack of transparency regarding the extent of the application of the amnesty law further denies the rights of the victims of these crimes. On 5 October 2018, FIDH, MIDH, and LIDHO lodged an appeal with the Council of State in order to highlight the illegality of the amnesty order, and more generally to denounce the violation by the State of Côte d’Ivoire of its international commitments through the adoption of these provisions.

Indeed, international law requires States to prosecute the perpetrators of serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, so that the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation are respected. The main international treaties to which Côte d’Ivoire is a party — including the Convention against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — require the prosecution of alleged perpetrators. An amnesty for serious crimes would also be contrary to the constitutive principles of the African Union and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

At the international level, the acquittal, confirmed on appeal on 31 March 2021, of former resident Laurent Gbagbo and his former minister Charles Blé Goudé by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has enshrined the impunity granted to the perpetrators of the crimes of the 2010-2011 post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. The acquittal of the only two suspects prosecuted before the ICC means that the most senior perpetrators of these crimes, both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara, will likely never be prosecuted.

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