(Washington) – The promotion of two Côte d’Ivoire military commanders against whom there are serious allegations of involvement in grave crimes raises concerns about President Alassane Ouattara’s commitment to end impunity and ensure justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said today.
On August 3, 2011, President Ouattara signed a promotion making Chérif Ousmane the second-in-command for presidential security (Groupe de sécurité de la présidence de la République). During the final battle for Abidjan, Ousmane was the head of the Republican Forces operations in Yopougon neighborhood, where scores of perceived supporters of Laurent Gbagbo were executed extrajudicially.
Ouattara also appointed Martin Kouakou Fofié head of the military company (Compagnie territoriale)headquartered in the northern town of Korhogo. Fofié was one of three people placed on the UN Security Council sanctions list in 2006, for commanding forces who committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
“The Ouattara government has repeatedly promised to break with the past, when security forces were above the law,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet rather than create an army likely to respect the rule of law, Ouattara has promoted commanders who were in command when atrocities took place and should be investigated, not rewarded.”
More than 3,000 civilians were killed and 150 women raped during the six months of violence that followed former president Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize November 2010 presidential election results that proclaimed Ouattara the victor.
Despite frequent promises of impartial justice, the Ouattara government has not charged anyone from the Republican Forces – the troops that supported him in removing Gbagbo and that are now the country’s military – for the grave crimes committed during the post-election period. More than 70 leaders from the Gbagbo side have been charged by either civilian or military prosecutors.
Human Rights Watch, an international commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Division of the United Nations operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights all documented war crimes and likely crimes against humanity by both sides’ forces.
On August 3, Ouattara formally assigned to units in the integrated Ivorian army many longtime commanders from the former rebel army, the Forces Nouvelles, or New Forces. The Forces Nouvelles commanders and soldiers constituted the vast majority of the Republican Forces army established by Ouattara in a March 2011 decree. One month later, on April 11, the Republican Forces arrested Gbagbo and installed Ouattara in power, though fighting continued for several weeks.
Ousmane’s promotion raises concerns about the army’s impartiality. A soldier in his “Guépard Company” told Human Rights Watch that Ousmane himself ordered the execution of 29 prisoners in early May, on a day when he was furious at having lost several soldiers in fighting. He was the longtime Forces Nouvelles commander in Bouaké.
Fofié, who was the rebel zone commander in Korhogo in 2006, was the only person from the Forces Nouvelles side placed on the UN sanctions list in that year. In justifying the travel ban and asset freeze against him, which remains in effect, the Sanctions Committee found:
Forces under his command engaged in recruitment of child soldiers, abductions, imposition of forced labor, sexual abuse of women, arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings, contrary to human rights conventions and to international humanitarian law.
A report at that time by IRIN, a news service supported by the UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, further said about Fofié:
UN officials hold Fofie at least partly responsible for one of the worst human rights violations recorded during the [first Ivorian] conflict. In June 2004, a struggle over leadership of the rebel movement … led to clashes among rebel factions. Fofie’s men quashed the insurgency in Korhogo and arrested scores of dissident fighters. Days later, French peacekeepers reported nearly 100 dead bodies in the town morgue. Several more bodies were found around Korhogo, most of them executed – their hands still tied behind their backs, a single bullet lodged in their heads. In July, a team of UN human rights investigators discovered a mass grave near Korhogo filled with at least 99 corpses. Investigations concluded that more than 60 of the men had died from suffocation after being held in sealed goods’ containers for days on end without food or water.
“Even by the former rebel army’s standards, Fofié’s behavior stood out as particularly appalling, forcing the Security Council to take action,” Bekele said. “His integration into the new Ivorian military mocks the many victims of his forces, including children used as soldiers under his command.”