Background Briefing

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Since President Gbagbo took office in 2000, there has been scant effort to hold members of state security forces and pro-government forces alleged to be involved in serious crimes accountable.  The only cases of politically motivated violence to be properly investigated and tried by Ivorian authorities were those in which the victims were foreigners, notably the October 2003 killing of French journalist Jean Helene by an Ivorian policeman; the April 2004 disappearance of French/Canadian economic journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer; and the June 2004 killing of a French peacekeeper by an Ivorian soldier.

Despite considerable evidence that government forces were responsible for massacres and other atrocities committed during the 2000 election,7 not one member of the security forces was ever convicted.8  Instead Gbagbo responded to calls for accountability by making a series of symbolic gestures such as the establishment of a committee to promote national reconciliation and a national day of prayer. While the government stated in October 2002 its intention to investigate the killing of over fifty civilians by an elite police unit in Daloa, they have yet to publish a report, let alone make any arrests. Following the March 25, 2004 demonstration, the Ivorian General Prosecutor ordered that autopsies be performed on the ninety-six bodies in government custody; to date there have been no arrests.9  In September 2004, the Ivorian Parliament set up two multiparty commissions to investigate the violence surrounding the March 2004 demonstration and human rights violence committed since September 19, 2002.

[7] See “The New Racism: The Political Exploitation of Ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire,” Human Rights Watch Report, Volume 13, No 6(A) August 2001.

[8] On April 13, 2001, six gendarmes were charged with murder in connection with the massacre of the Charnier de Yopougon. One of the six was the commander of the Gendarme Camp of Abobo, Major Be Kpan who was a captain at the time of the October events and subsequently promoted. Two more gendarmes were later charged and on July 24, 2001 the trial before a military tribunal of the eight gendarmes began inside the Agban Gendarme Camp. However, the prosecution's case was seriously weakened by the failure to conduct ballistics tests on bullets found in the bodies, and of the failure of several key witnesses to show up, including two survivors of the massacre, allegedly because of fears for their safety. During the trial, a lawyer for the victims' families, Ibrahima Doumbia said, "The witnesses don't feel secure. And without them, I don't think this trial will establish the truth." During the trial, defense lawyer Banti Kakou implied that impunity for the gendarmes was a requirement for stability in the Côte d'Ivoire by saying, "[b]y convicting them, you would needlessly undermine morale in the gendarmerie and therefore in Côte d'Ivoire."All eight gendarmes maintained their innocence and defendant Sergeant Nguessan Ble said, "I was surprised even to hear about the killings." On August 3, 2001, all eight gendarmes were acquitted by Judge Delli Sepleu, who ruled that the prosecutors had failed to produce any evidence directly linking the gendarmes to the killings.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with Ivorian General Prosecutor Damou Kouyaté, Abidjan, June 2, 2004.

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