A woman hides her face after recounting how pro-Ouattara forces killed two of her children and
her brother.

© 2011 Peter Dicampo

(Abidjan) – Preemptively closing investigations into serious human rights violations during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire would be a step backward in the fight against impunity, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said today in a joint letter to President Alassane Ouattara. The letter, signed by 19 groups, was sent amid reports that the government has ordered the Special Investigative and Examination Cell, the body responsible for investigations into the post-election crisis, to finish its work in two key human rights cases by June 30, 2015.

“President Ouattara has repeatedly stated his commitment to impartial justice for the worst crimes committed during the crisis, but actions speak louder than words,” said Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “President Ouattara should stand by his promise by maintaining support for the special cell so it can rigorously investigate the post-election abuses.”

Ouattara created the special cell in June 2011. Sparked by the refusal of former President Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to Ouattara despite clear international consensus that Ouattara had won the December 2010 run-off election, attacks were carried out by fighters and others supporting both sides. At least 3,000 civilians were killed and more than 150 women were raped. The special cell has already had to overcome a threat of closure in late 2013. Although Ouattara ultimately renewed its mandate, until very recently persistent resource shortages severely limited the special cell’s ability to investigate cases. In late 2014, the government began providing the financial support needed to make progress in investigations. Given the complexity of serious international crimes, their effective investigation takes considerable time, resources, and support, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government’s long-overdue backing for the cell means that it is finally able to make progress in investigations into grave crimes from the crisis,” said Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the International Federation for Human Rights and lawyer for Ivorian victims. “Cutting off support at this critical stage would deal a blow to the fight against impunity in Côte d’Ivoire.”