In DepthSoapboxWill justice be done for victims of Côte d'Ivoire's post-electoral crisis?


Posted on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 16:44

Will justice be done for victims of Côte d'Ivoire's post-electoral crisis?

By Drissa Traoré, FIDH Vice President and Patrick Baudouin, FIDH Honorary President

Côte d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December 2010While the tragic events that are still unfolding in Mali dominate international headlines, this tragedy should not overshadow the ongoing and equally tragic crisis in its southern neighbour, Ivory Coast.

Despite a fresh economic start and a steadily improving security situation, Ivory Coast remains at a crossroads: will it forge ahead with a process of political reconciliation and construction of a common national destiny ahead of its 2015 presidential election, or will it once again be torn apart by the political rivalries that ignited the previous civil war and post election violence that still simmers?

President Ouattara made a commitment to 'justice for all and reconciliation,' but both of these goals seem far off

The vital key to this question, and the only hope for thousands of Ivorians to overcome the suspicion and fear that haunts the country, is impunity and justice.

According to official figures, in the wake of the post-electoral crisis there remain 3,000 deaths for which no one has been held accountable.

National reconciliation and trust will remain impossible until the victims and the families of victims see their judicial system function fairly and effectively to bring those responsible to justice.

The process of prosecuting those who bear the most responsibility for the violence began even before the end of the post-electoral crisis when, in December 2010, President Alassane Ouattara accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This resulted in the arrest and transfer to the ICC of the former President Laurent Gbagbo in November 2011.

However, a formal decision regarding whether or not he will actually be prosecuted by the ICC has yet to be issued, leaving many in Ivory Coast anxious to know whether or not Laurent Gbagbo will return to the country.

In November 2012, the ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Laurent Gbagbo's wife Simone, but on 20 September 2013, the Ivorian government announced its decision not to transfer her to the ICC. She was instead prosecuted in the Ivory Coast.

In 2012, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The Ivorian Human Rights Movement (MIDH) and the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO) began providing legal assistance to almost one hundred victims from all sides of the post-electoral crisis, which included filing cases as civil parties in Ivory Coast.

This provided our organisations with the unique opportunity to assess firsthand the progress and challenges in the national judicial proceedings related to the post-electoral crisis.

Two years later, we can see that the fight against impunity in Ivory Coast is far from complete.

Judicial proceedings against the pro-Gbagbo side have made progress: hearings have been scheduled for the first criminal trial against 83 Gbagbo supporters accused of "breaching national security."

But the imbalance in the prosecutorial procedure is blatant: to date only one alleged perpetrator on the Ouattara side - Amadé Ouérémi - has been formally charged.

Ivory Coast's national judicial system is also facing another major threat that could jeopardise the country's ability to confront impunity.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), which has thus far been responsible for carrying out investigations and judicial proceedings linked to the post-electoral crisis, is scheduled to be dismantled in December 2013.

The SIU is composed of magistrates, registrars, and judicial police officers, and has considerable material resources, which has enabled it to carry out six judicial procedures simultaneously, hear from over 3500 victims and witnesses, and charge close to 140 people.

But barely two months after the arrest and indictment of Amadé Ouérémi, the future of the SIU is being called into question, and all of the examining magistrates have been replaced.

The SIU is now operating in low gear and in October 2013 the Minister of Justice announced that "ordinary judicial services could now take over and there is no reason to maintain the Special Investigation Unit".

Yet, according to those involved in the proceedings, the investigations have not been completed and the SIU is doing vital work that must continue.

"The SIU is the only element of the formal justice system that listened to us," said one of the victims registered as a civil party in the judicial proceedings.

Closing the SIU would mean ending the fight against impunity in Ivory Coast, sending victims back into solitude and forcing them to face their persecutors without legal recourse.

President Ouattara made a commitment to 'justice for all and reconciliation,' but both of these goals seem far off. Maintaining the SIU in place would be a strong signal of the political determination of the Ivorian State to seek justice for the people of Ivory Coast.

FIDH and its members in Ivory Coast – LIDHO and MIDH – believe that Ivorian authorities are not only warranted in prosecuting through national courts those persons presumed to be responsible for the post-electoral violence in the country, but that they have the duty to do so.

The successful prosecution of these grave crimes in Ivory Coast would strengthen the capacity of the Ivorian legal system, and reflect the principle of the complementarity provided for in Article 17 of the Rome Statute.

Yet we must ensure that the pre-eminence of national justice does not result in the manipulation of the judicial system for the purpose of vengeance, nor guarantee impunity for the perpetrators of serious violations of human rights.

The decision to prosecute Simone Gbagbo in Ivory Coast has in fact raised questions about the capacity and will of the Ivorian State to properly prosecute those deemed most responsible for the post-electoral crisis in the country, and it remains to be seen whether the national judicial system will provide justice for victims of the violence.

The successful cooperation between national and international justice mechanisms in Ivory Coast would stand out as a strong, reasoned response to the ideological and political debate that is being used to oppose the ICC and Africa.

Fighting impunity means helping and strengthening the countries where the most serious crimes have been committed by supporting their judicial systems in prosecuting the alleged perpetrators.

The responsibility for the delivery of balanced and impartial justice lies first and foremost with State authorities, with the support of the ICC and under the watchful eye of the victims.

For Ivory Coast, this responsibility lies with the Special Investigation Union and the judicial proceedings now underway.


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