Human Rights Watch interviewed 176 survivors of and witnesses to sexual violence for this report, 35 of whom were interviewed in small groups, and the rest of whom were interviewed individually. Human Rights Watch also interviewed over 100 representatives of NGOs, medical service providers, United Nations and French peacekeepers, diplomats, rebels, and government representatives. In an attempt to ensure balanced regional and ethnic representation of victims and witnesses, field research for this report spanned different regions of Côte dIvoire (in and around Abidjan, Guiglo, Duékoué, Man, Danané, Korhogo), Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, and Senegal, and lasted from August to October, 2006. Numerous reports and studies were also collected and analyzed as background material.
Human Rights Watch believes that cases of sexual abuse may be significantly underreported due to a number of methodological challenges, including the possibility of reprisals by perpetrators, fear of ostracism by families and communities, and cultural taboos. Local human rights groups consistently reported that the stigma attached to rape victims probably prevented many women from openly discussing these violations with a stranger.
The tense security situation, particularly in western Côte dIvoire, made it difficult for Human Rights Watch to travel freely and intimidated local and international partners. Attacks against local and international NGOs, including burning of their offices and their staffs homes, likewise led to disruptions in record-keeping, making more difficult to review existing NGO documentation regarding past incidents of sexual violence.
Care was taken with victims to ensure that recounting their experience did not further traumatize them or put them at physical risk. While we sought as much information as possible from each interview, the well-being of the interviewee was always paramount and some interviews were cut short as a result. The interviews were mostly conducted in French, or in one of the languages spoken by the different ethnic groups and translated into French by an interpreter. In most interviews only females were present.
The names of all witnesses and most staff members of national and international humanitarian organizations have been withheld in order to protect their identity, privacy, and security. Details of testimonies have been suppressed in cases where these could help perpetrators identify individuals who had the courage to speak out.
Human Rights Watch identified victims and witnesses through the help of numerous local organizations and reviewed many studies by a range of partners in Côte dIvoire, many of whom requested that their identities and reports remain confidential. Consultations with a broad array of actors ensured a more comprehensive understanding of sexual violence in Côte dIvoire.