Background Briefing

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Accountability for Crimes by Pro-Government and Rebel Forces

The government has not taken meaningful steps to hold perpetrators of recent human rights violations accountable, let alone bring to justice those responsible for serious international crimes in the past. These include human rights abuses and war crimes committed during the 1999-2000 military junta, the 2000 elections, and the 2002-2003 civil war, as well as the most serious incidents since the end of the war, such as the violent crackdown on an opposition demonstration in Abidjan in March 2004. The leadership of the New Forces has not punished perpetrators of crimes who are within its ranks, nor has it set up any real legal system in the areas under its control.  The failure to punish perpetrators has created a pervasive culture of impunity that has no doubt emboldened perpetrators to commit ever increasing acts of violence against civilians.

Domestic Efforts

The government of Côte d’Ivoire remains primarily responsible for holding perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes accountable. However, in none of the three different zones of Côte d’Ivoire—the government-controlled south, the rebel-held north, or the Zone of Confidence patrolled by international troops—are crimes in violation of international law regularly investigated or perpetrators regularly disciplined or held accountable through prosecutions.  

In the government-controlled south, a military prosecutor is investigating some cases against military personnel accused of extrajudicial executions of civilians. However, ONOCI human rights division head Simon Munzu told Human Rights Watch that the number of cases under investigation is “the tip of the iceberg,” and there have as yet been no arrests or prosecutions.97 In September 2005 the head of CECOS, General Bi Point, announced that several soldiers accused of extortion had been detained, but there have as yet been no convictions. A Western military analyst pointed out that the names of those detained have yet to be made public, and suggested that Bi Point’s actions were meant to deflect attention from the larger pattern of abuse.98

The failure to prosecute crimes in violation of international law is partly a result of growing institutional deficiencies within the justice system. Since the rebellion the Ivorian justice system as still functioning in the south has allegedly become increasingly politicized, thus undermining its ability to function independently. In both the rebel-held north and the Zone of Confidence the national judicial system has ceased to function, leaving a serious rule of law vacuum. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, the New Forces commandant in Man, Colonel Losseni, and the head of New Forces Civilian Affairs in Bouaké, Mamadou Togba, admitted that there is no functioning judicial system in the north and that it is the remnants of the civilian police and at times the New Forces military police who dispense and administer justice.99 The head of UNOCI’s Rule of Law Division told Human Rights Watch that when U.N. or French forces arrest suspected criminals in the Zone of Confidence, they turn them over to the authorities of either side, after asking them to whom they want to be handed over. However, authorities from both sides reportedly routinely release these suspects.100

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Mamadou Togba justified checkpoint extortion by arguing that the rebels do not have public revenue to pay their soldiers. He also claimed that rebels who extorted larger sums or behaved inappropriately would be disciplined.101 However, the UNOCI human rights officer in Bouake told Human Rights Watch that the New Forces have taken no meaningful steps to discipline rebels for extortion or robbery.102

The years of abuse and criminality on the part of both the government’s security forces and the New Forces have created deep fear and suspicion among the Ivorian population. Villagers in the north told Human Rights Watch that they are scared of the New Forces and fearful of reporting cases of robbery to the authorities.103 In the south, several victims of crimes told Human Rights Watch that either they were too fearful and distrustful to report crimes to the police, or that police stood by and witnessed crimes being committed.104

International Efforts

Given serious concerns about the ability and willingness of the Ivorian national courts to try serious crimes, justice for Ivorian victims requires significant support and engagement from the international community.105

Commissions of Inquiry

The United Nations, including the Secretary-General, Security Council, and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), have taken a proactive role in denouncing and investigating atrocities committed in Côte d’Ivoire. In response to the serious abuses of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, OHCHR has dispatched three separate commissions of inquiry to the country: the first following the election violence in October 2000; the second following the violent crackdown on an opposition demonstration in March 2004; and the third following a request by all parties to the Linas-Marcoussis agreement to investigate all serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated in Côte d’Ivoire since September 19, 2002.

However, the U.N. Security Council has yet to make public or discuss the findings of the last commission of inquiry report, which was handed to the U.N. Secretary-General in November 2004 and transmitted to the Security Council on December 23, 2004.

Failure to Impose Sanctions or Pursue Accountability

The November 2004 commission of inquiry report contained an annex listing people accused of human rights abuses that could eventually stand trial. Radio France Internationale (RFI), which obtained a draft of the report, reported in January 2005 that the list contained ninety-five names including the president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo (who is also the parliamentary leader of the FPI), former defense minister Kadet Bertin, and New Forces leader Guillaume Soro.106

The U.N. Security Council has refrained from the imposition of financial and economic sanctions on individuals alleged to have perpetrated human rights violations, although in November 2004 the Security Council authorized the use of sanctions against Ivorians who violated human rights, broke the arms embargo, indulged in hate speech, or blocked the peace process.107 Those sanctions include travel bans and the freezing of assets. The reluctance of the international community to take concrete steps to restrain persons alleged to have committed human rights atrocities through sanctions, or to pursue efforts to hold them accountable through a judicial process, has been driven by fears of undermining efforts to achieve an end to the political and military stalemate.108

Diplomats and UNOCI officials told Human Rights Watch that for the past year South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has served as the mediator to the conflict, has suppressed discussion of the November 2004 commission of inquiry report and serious consideration of the use of sanctions, because he felt that that such steps would disrupt the peace process by alienating leading political figures deemed necessary for the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement.109

Although the U.N. Security Council  “reaffirmed its readiness” to impose sanctions in its most recent resolution on Côte d’Ivoire in late October, it does not appear that the recent visit of the chairman of the Security Council’s sanctions committee is a bellwether of concrete action in the near future. Diplomats and U.N. officials told Human Rights Watch that no member of the Security Council appears willing to initiate the application of sanctions under Resolution 1572.110

ICC Investigation

While the International Criminal Court could pursue investigations of serious international crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire since 2002, it has yet to do so.  Côte d’Ivoire is not a state party to the ICC, but in September 2003 the Ivorian government made a declaration to the ICC accepting the court’s jurisdiction, with the objective of bringing the rebels to justice.  However, this declaration gives the ICC the authority to investigate serious crimes by all parties committed in Côte d’Ivoire.111  Although the ICC prosecutor said in January 2005 that he would send a delegation to Côte d’Ivoire to lay the groundwork for a possible ICC investigation, as of this writing such a visit had not occurred. The head of the UNOCI Human Rights Division, Simon Munzu, told Human Rights Watch that although there were signs that the visit would occur, “we are a long way from the ICC being used as an instrument to combat impunity in Côte d’Ivoire.”112  On November 28, 2005, the ICC prosecutor indicated that his office is planning a mission to Côte d’Ivoire for early 2006.113

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Simon Munzu, Abidjan, September 24, 2005.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Western military analyst, Abidjan, October 10, 2005.

[99] Human Rights Watch interviews, Man, October 5, 2005, and Bouaké, October 7, 2005.

[100] Human Rights Watch interviews with Western military analyst and U.N. officials, Abidjan, September-October, 2005.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Mamadou Togba, Bouaké, October 7, 2005.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Mermet, Bouaké, October 7, 2005.

[103] Human Rights Watch interviews, Man and Bouaké, September-October 2005.

[104] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, October 10, 2005.

[105] See discussion in “Côte d’Ivoire: Accountability for Serious Human Rights Crimes Key to Resolving Crisis,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 2004.

[106] See Human Rights Watch, “Country on a Precipice,” p. 37.

[107] U.N. Security Council Resolution 1572, November 15, 2004, S/RES/1572.

[108] Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, journalists, and U.N. officials in Abidjan, September-October 2005, and in New York, November 2005.

[109] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[110] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan and New York, September-October, 2005.

[111] International Criminal Court, “Registrar confirms that the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court,” ICC Press Release, February 15, 2005. 

[112] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, September 24, 2005.

[113] Statement by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fourth Session of the Assembly of State Parties, 28 November – 3 December 2005, The Hague, November 28, 2005.

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