Human Rights Watch welcomes the Independent Expert’s engagement on Côte d’Ivoire after more than a decade of grave human rights abuses committed largely during episodes of political violence and armed conflict. In his first report, the Independent Expert highlights important ongoing problems related to criminality, the continued usurping of state functions by the Republican Forces in certain regions, and the need to end impunity in order to restore the rule of law.
We note with concern, however, what we believe to be an inadequate discussion of the ongoing one-sided justice in Côte d’Ivoire. While the Independent Expert takes note of local and international opinion against victor’s justice, a deeper discussion of the problem and its impact within Côte d’Ivoire is needed. The 2011 international Commission of Inquiry, mandated by the Human Rights Council, made its top recommendation “exhaustive, impartial, and transparent” investigations and prosecutions for crimes committed by both sides.
The Independent Expert’s report quotes the national prosecutor as saying he will re-send teams to investigate the grave crimes committed in western Côte d’Ivoire, “if [he] ha[s] the means.” Given President Ouattara’s repeated promises of impartial justice, the expert should answer why the prosecutor has not received sufficient material support for these investigations. The report also discusses how the military prosecutor has initiated prosecutions for crimes committed by Gbagbo’s former military and militia leaders, but fails to detail what is widely seen as a dearth of credible investigations into crimes committed by pro-Ouattara forces.
More than 120 individuals have been charged with post-election crimes by the military or civilian prosecutor. None comes from the pro-Ouattara forces. This one-sided justice exists despite the documentation of war crimes and likely crimes against humanity by both sides’ armed forces, including in reports from Human Rights Watch, the international Commission of Inquiry, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights, and the UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire.
One year on, as military trials begin against individuals from the Gbagbo camp, victims of serious post-election abuses by the Republican Forces remain effectively without recourse to justice. Prominent members of Ivorian civil society have stated frequently in meetings with us that they do not see the justice process as credible or independent. The transfer of only Laurent Gbagbo to the International Criminal Court at present, while a welcome step for justice, reinforces this perception of accountability for one side.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Independent Expert, during his next mission, to increase his attention to these crucial accountability issues. Impunity for those in power was at the root of the Ivorian crisis, and impartial justice is crucial to end the communal divisions that still mark Côte d’Ivoire today.
We thank the Independent Expert for his efforts to address the long-standing patterns of abuse and impunity in Côte d’Ivoire. To this end, we have the following questions: What are your expectations regarding when the Ivorian government will ensure that prosecutions begin of individuals within the Republican Forces who committed grave crimes during the post-election period? How concerned are you that prosecutions for these crimes remain one-sided, and that mid- and upper-level Republican Forces commanders appear to be above the law?