Impunity and the Need for Justice

Neither the government, the leadership of the rebel New Forces, nor the international community has taken meaningful steps to hold accountable those responsible for sexual violence and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Côte d’Ivoire since the beginning of the crisis. This failure has created a context conducive to increasingly entrenched lawlessness, one in which impunity prevails and violence against women and girls remains a serious problem.

Despite requests for information from the authorities, and numerous inquiries with UN officials, local and international NGOs, and representatives of the Ivorian bar, Human Rights Watch is unaware of successful prosecutions and convictions of any cases of conflict-related sexual violence in the government-run Ivorian courts or the New Forces administration.

The international Commission of Inquiry mandated by the United Nations to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2004 produced a scathing report on serious and widespread abuses. The final report was suppressed at the United Nations, but a version was leaked to the public, in which the Commission noted, “none of those having committed serious crimes, whether they be coup planners, government soldiers, gendarmes, policemen or others, have been pursued in any legal investigations” or, in those few cases in which investigations were conducted, no prosecutions took place. The Commission further noted that this reality “has not failed to fuel the frustration of victims who have yet to see justice, and who see perpetrators enjoying total impunity every day.”197

The lack of prosecutions appears to be due to a number of factors including victims’ unwillingness or inability to pursue cases; the collapse of the legal system in the north; inefficiency and corruption of the legal system in the south and the lack of political will to prosecute sexual violence; and, last but not least, prevalent cultural attitudes that devalue the seriousness of sexual violence and marginalize its victims.

In addition to these more longstanding obstacles to justice, President Laurent Gbagbo in April 2007 signed into law an amnesty for crimes against the state in the latest boost for a new peace deal to reunite the country.198 The law excludes economic crimes and domestic law crimes from the amnesty except when individuals committed crimes against the security of the state and national defense (primarily applicable to rebel forces) or when individuals committed crimes defending the republican institutions (primarily applicable to government forces).

Disturbingly, the amnesty makes no mention of inapplicability to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The amnesty could potentially be interpreted in an overly broad manner, whitewashing many abuses against civilians. A growing body of treaties and international laws, which prohibits states from granting amnesties for violations amounting to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious human rights violations, calls into question whether such an amnesty would be legal. Human Rights Watch strongly opposes such amnesties and considers them to be in a violation of a state’s duty to investigate, prosecute, and punish serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Victims’ Unwillingness to Pursue Cases  

Survivors of sexual violence are often reluctant to push for the perpetrators to be held accountable in a court of law. Human Rights Watch interviews with survivors suggested that this disinclination may be due to a number of factors.

First, many survivors feel ashamed of what happened to them and often blame themselves for the assault, a perception reinforced by different sectors of Ivorian society. A rape victim is often seen as a disgrace to her extended family. Survivors are therefore hesitant to speak out lest they bring shame upon themselves and their family, and potentially be ostracized by their communities. Attitudes towards sexual violence and the subordinate status of women and girls create considerable societal pressure for women not to pursue their cases. As one rape survivor whose daughter was also raped by rebels in western 18 Montagnes told Human Rights Watch, “I never told anyone that I was raped and my daughter too. You are the only person I have ever told. I am afraid. It is shameful.”199 Some of these women and girls simply want to try to forget about the sexual violence and other human rights abuses they have been subjected to and just try to get on with their lives.

Second, women and girls who have suffered crimes of sexual violence must have their medical and psychological needs met both to relieve their immediate distress and to give them strength to pursue judicial redress. A person who is in pain, incontinent, or depressed is unlikely to take a case to court.

Third, some women and girls fear reprisals by perpetrators. Given the current climate of lawlessness and militarization, a number of respondents expressed fear that their rapists would hurt them or their families. For instance, rebels in Man gang raped a nine-year-old girl in 2006, dislocating her pelvis and resulting in her inability to walk or urinate properly. After the attack the rebels threatened to kill her and her parents if they brought the child to a hospital, much less pursued justice for the attack.200

Fourth, few survivors of sexual violence interviewed have faith in either the criminal justice system or the customary law system and their capacity to provide justice. Many respondents told Human Rights Watch that they believed their perpetrator would never be punished or, at best, would only be punished if they had the financial means to bribe the police, prosecutors, judges, rebel commanders, and other authorities.

Fifth, victims lack awareness of their rights. This is undoubtedly the result of high illiteracy rates, prevalent societal attitudes towards sexual violence, and women’s low status in society. In particular, many rural women and girls do not know how to bring a case against the perpetrator.

The Collapse of the Legal System in the North

There appears to be virtually no effort by the rebel leadership to investigate or punish acts of sexual violence allegedly perpetrated by either rebel combatants or civilians living within the areas under rebel administration. Numerous survivors told Human Rights Watch how they harbored little hope of ever seeing justice realized for crimes of sexual violence committed against them. Victims, their families, and the aid workers assisting them described being afraid of bringing crimes to the attention of rebel authorities, or of being intimidated into dropping their efforts to pursue justice. Others described feeling uneasy because they felt that reporting a perpetrator could result in an extreme punishment, such as a summary extrajudicial execution.

The limited efforts by the rebels to punish alleged perpetrators are most often characterized by arbitrariness and lack of fair trial guarantees in accordance with international standards.201 The few cases in which perpetrators were punished do not remotely conform to standards of international law; indeed, these rare punishments were either inappropriately harsh (reported beatings, lynchings, or summary executions), or slaps on the wrist (perpetrators jailed for a few days or months at most, before being released).

General Problems with Justice in the Rebel-held North

Impunity remains the norm for many crimes in the rebel-held north, including sexual violence. Here, there is no judicial system able to ensure fair trial guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The national judiciary in the north collapsed following the outbreak of hostilities in late 2002. Many court and prison buildings were ransacked or destroyed and most lawyers and judges fled south, leaving a void where the judicial and penal system once operated. After the rebellion consolidated control over the northern half of the country, President Gbagbo instructed public servants, including members of the judiciary, to evacuate the north and come to the government-held south.

In the period immediately following the outbreak of hostilities and departure of judicial authorities, executions and other “extrajudicial methods” were the primary means of enforcing the law.202 The problems of that period prompted the New Forces to establish an ad hoc judicial and penal system run primarily by New Forces police commissioners, most of whom were national policemen before the armed conflict. The head of the New Forces police is a member of the New Forces high command.203 Under the ad hoc judicial and penal system, New Forces territory is divided into ten military districts, with the police force in each district headed by a New Forces police commissioner.204 The police, which receive no supervision from the Ivorian government, have jurisdiction over all crimes in this region, including those committed by New Forces soldiers. 205  

There are numerous problems with justice under this ad hoc system. First, individual police commissioners serve, in effect, as investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury. Second, an accused does not have the benefit of defense counsel at any stage of the investigation, including the determination of guilt, or sentencing.206 Third, some commissioners attempt to impose sentences corresponding to the range provided by the Ivorian penal code for a particular offense, while others simply place an alleged perpetrator in detention for an undetermined period until they feel that he or she has been sufficiently punished.207 Fourth, police commissioners can be influenced by the rebel leadership, which can result in investigations being dropped.208 Lastly, the system lacks independent judicial checks on the power of the police commissioners.209

As a consequence, the criminal justice system in New Forces-controlled territory operates in an inconsistent, patchwork fashion in which there are frequent arbitrary arrests, the imposition of custodial “sentences” on questionable legal authority, and lack of adherence to international fair trial guarantees. Arrest and detention, release of suspects, convictions, and acquittals are executed with limited respect for the rights of victims or the accused. The peace agreements do not specifically require the New Forces to establish functioning or effective judicial institutions within the territory under their control; customary international humanitarian law provides protections for civilians in internal armed conflicts such as in Côte d’Ivoire.

Rebels Ignored Complaints or Punished Those Reporting on Sexual Violence

Local and international NGOs alike, alongside members of the diplomatic corps, UN officials, and academic experts, all noted that there appears to be little political will to punish abuses by members of the New Forces. Members of the human rights section of the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) told Human Rights Watch that as of late 2006, they had yet to document a single case of rebel-perpetrated sexual violence that had been investigated, tried and punished in accordance with international standards.210  

They further noted that inquiries about particular cases of sexual violence are frequently met by the rebels with evasion or denials that any crime was committed.211  According to an NGO that has worked recently with the New Forces on numerous human rights trainings at nearly all barracks and checkpoints in the western region of 18 Montagnes, no such cases have been officially tried and punished by rebel authorities in the west in accordance with international standards since the beginning of the conflict.

A local civil society leader working in western Côte d’Ivoire expressed her frustration about the form or lack of justice for victims of sexual violence committed by both civilians and rebel combatants:

When a rape happens, the FN beat the perpetrators, sometimes keep them a few days locked up somewhere, then let them go. And almost nothing happens when it is their own soldiers; they are easier on their own soldiers who rape.212

A local woman community leader told Human Rights Watch “One eight-year-old girl was raped by a soldier in late 2004. She died. The rebel was put in jail for 2 months and then released.”213 The same woman lamented, “We tried to deal with this one FAFN guy who is a rapist; we have reported him over and over. He is a recidivist. He rapes a lot in different villages. There has been no result.”214 Another civil society leader echoed this frustration: 

There is no justice for sexual violence, no judgment. Sometimes there are friendly settlements, and the perpetrator gives money. Sometimes they will go to prison for a few days. Rapes are not really punished. It’s all about relations. If it is a rape committed by a man in uniform you can forget about justice.215

Some survivors, members of their families, and civil society leaders seeking redress for sexual abuse committed by combatants from the New Forces were beaten, intimidated, or suffered other reprisals meted out by the perpetrator or his commander. A staff member of an international humanitarian organization in Man told Human Rights Watch about reprisals against those seeking justice for the 2006 rape of a fourteen-year-old school girl by a rebel combatant after having been detained at a checkpoint. The aid worker recounted how the rebel not only set alight the home of a community member who had assisted the girl, but also went to the victim’s village to threaten her parents not to pursue the case.216

Their record of helping facilitate justice for the crimes committed remains grossly inadequate in spite of some measures taken by the New Forces aimed at preventing violations. These include statements by various commanders that they would not tolerate abuses against civilians, the creation of a restitution commission to return goods that were confiscated, the provision of human rights training to some troops and commanders have undergone,217 and even the MPCI expulsion of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans from the west.

Those few cases in which rebels and civilians living in the rebel-held north were punished happened outside any proper legal process. Instead of being investigated, detained, tried, and sentenced, some rebels who were alleged rapists have been lynched or killed while others were beaten before being released.

Human Rights Watch interviewed social workers from nine national and international organizations working with survivors of sexual violence; collectively they had knowledge about a mere seven cases of sexual violence involving rebels that were acted upon by rebel authorities. None of those cases involved a fair trial of the alleged perpetrator, required under international law. Nevertheless, in these seven cases, the alleged perpetrators were either beaten, tortured, or summarily executed.218   

It is possible for the New Forces to improve its record on impunity for conflict-related sexual violence. The New Forces leadership must exert greater oversight and discipline over its troops.

Abuses against civilians were so common and so public that they must have been committed with the knowledge of senior commanders—perhaps even with their authorization—and almost certainly without any real fear of punishment. Considering the widespread and systematic nature of sexual violence that took place in Côte d’Ivoire at various periods; the relatively high military coordination of these troops; and their political organization, as described to Human Rights Watch by a former rebel spokesperson, the evidence indicates that high ranking rebels knew or had reason to know of the severe sexual violence taking place. Echoing the testimonies of many survivors and community leaders, a former senior rebel spokesperson told Human Rights Watch how women and girls were openly pulled off the streets by rebels on foot or in jeeps; he even stated that there were many girls in the camp of Félix Doh (a former western rebel leader). This spokesperson stated that although he believed some came willingly or out of financial desperation, there were others whom he knew had been taken by force.219 Witnesses and victims alike described how mid-ranking rebel commanders abducted and raped women. The culpability of superior officers for atrocities that their subordinates commit is known as command responsibility.220  

Whenever a rebel commander authorized or ordered rapes, that individual is criminally responsible for the rapes. Moreover, rebel commanders may be culpable for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by their subordinates, and for failing to take sufficient action to end abuses by their troops. Senior rebel commanders could be prosecuted under international law so long as it can be proven that they must have known or had reason to know that subordinates were about to commit a crime or had committed a crime, and failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the crime or to punish the perpetrators.

Lack of Justice in Government Controlled Southern Côte d’Ivoire 

In government-controlled southern Côte d’Ivoire, cases of sexual violence of any sort are rarely investigated and prosecutions are even rarer. The result is near total impunity for conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by pro-government armed forces. There has likewise been scant progress in the few high profile cases of sexual violence in which courageous survivors have spoken publicly about their assaults and have actively pushed to see the perpetrators held accountable. Indeed, at the time of writing, it appeared that no member of a pro-government force had been held accountable for a crime of sexual violence.

Factors undermining justice in the south include intimidation and harassment of victims and legal professionals involved in bringing and adjudicating cases of sexual violence, lack of political will, corruption, financially prohibitive legal expenses, the high cost of medical certificates for rape (without which law enforcement usually refuse to open a case), judicial gender discrimination, and inadequate attention to violence against women.

Lack of Political Will to Pursue Cases

The primary obstacle to justice in the government-controlled south appears to be the lack of political will to bring to justice members of the security forces alleged to have committed crimes of sexual abuse. During a conference organized on August 2, 2006 by ONUCI’s Human Rights Division, Ange Kessi Kouamé the Government Commissioner (Commissaire du Gouvernement) and Prosecutor of the Republic before the Military Tribunal (Procureur de la république devant le Tribunal Militaire) discussed the status of several rape cases involving members of the security services in which they claimed to have investigations ongoing. However, M. Kouamé was unable to cite a single case in which a rapist from the security services had been investigated, tried, and sentenced. He provided only information on three cases in which police officers or members of CECOS are allegedly going to be brought to trial before the Military Tribunal at some future date.221

The state’s apparent unwillingness to pursue cases is evident in the case of a Malian woman who was vaginally fingered, beaten, threatened, forced to perform oral sex, and vaginally and anally raped multiple times in June 2005 near Duékoué, by a policeman whom consular officials alleged was a known recidivist. While he has been officially removed from his position, he has yet to be arrested or prosecuted. Indeed, the police actively discouraged the victim and her consular representatives from pursuing their claim, and pressured them to drop the case.222  

In courageously pursuing this case and others, the NGO Ivorian Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains, or MIDH), initiated a project called “SOS Raped Women” in 2006, to advocate for justice in 25 cases of rapes of women and girls by armed men. None of the cases has yet been judged, and no information is available on the status of investigations.

The apparent lack of commitment to pursue justice for cases of sexual assault was evident even before the outbreak of armed conflict. During the deepening national crisis that led up to the 2000 political violence (and in particular after Robert Guei’s military coup with the ensuing deterioration of respect for rule of law) sexual violence was also prevalent, but no prosecutions for sexual violence committed by government forces were brought to trial in the south. For example, no police official has been sanctioned for the well documented sexual abuse perpetrated by police inside the Police Training School (École de police) in Abidjan in 2000, where men and women were raped and sexually tortured primarily because of their supposed ethnic or political affiliation.223  

The former Cabinet Chief for the Police Chief (Chef de Cabinet du Directeur de la Police), who is currently the Korhogo Police Prefect, told Human Rights Watch that his colleagues and subordinates often sexually abused Dioula, Muslim, and foreign women with total impunity, even when he tried to sanction his staff or register complaints internally within the police.224

Intimidation and Harassment of Victims and Legal Professionals 

Both victims and legal professionals attempting to pursue cases of crimes committed by pro-government militias have faced intimidation and harassment by pro-government forces.

A striking example of the intimidation of victims occurred in the case of a woman who was gang raped by FESCI in Abidjan in 2005. She expressed outrage at the failure of law enforcement, judicial, or university officials to seek redress for the crime she endured, as well as their failure to respond to death threats she received after pursuing justice for the crime.

The guilty silence of the authorities makes me indignant and afraid. My future seems ruined and FESCI continues its kidnappings and abuses in total impunity…nothing has been done up to this day to uncover the facts and do justice. I want the truth to shine out and justice to be done, I want from the bottom of my heart that they should stop inflicting this kind of suffering…because it rots your life and fills you with humiliation and shame. I need to have confidence in myself again, to know that I am not the one in the wrong. That it is my torturers who were the ones to act badly. That would already be a victory for me…225

A leading local human rights NGO following that woman’s case confirmed that there has been no police investigation of the complaint she registered and that her requests for action from the university, Justice Ministry, and the Human Rights Ministry have received no response.

FESCI is not the only group that appears to be shielded from prosecution, no matter how grave the crimes its members commit. At the time of writing, Human Rights Watch had been unable to uncover a single instance in which any pro-government Liberian mercenary or member of an ethnically based militia in the ravaged southwest had been held accountable for acts of sexual violence.

Prohibitive Legal Expenses

Judicial corruption is a generalized problem, and those few cases of sexual violence that are brought to the attention of legal authorities do not escape its reach. From the moment rape victims register a complaint with the police, they must contend with corrupt practices by police and judicial personnel, factors which virtually ensure that cases will not be pursued.226 The Office of the United States Trade Representative reported in 2004 that corruption in Côte d’Ivoire had a great impact on judicial proceedings, and that “it is common for judges open to financial influence to distort the merits of a case.”227 The 2005 victim of gang rape by FESCI described how corrupt judicial practices stopped her case from moving forward:

The complaint I registered [about having been gang raped] has not received any follow up because we were asked to pay 50,000 CFA [US$100] before the prosecutor would look at the case. We did not have enough money and so the case has been neglected.228  

Beyond the bribes too often required to move a case forward, general legal and other fees can also deter victims from pursuing justice. According to numerous interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch with survivors, the cost of having to obtain a doctor’s report (certificat medical) serves as a serious obstacle to seeking redress for sexual violence. Shortly after reporting a case of rape or sexual violation to the police, a survivor is asked by the judicial police to obtain a doctor’s report as the physical proof of rape. Indeed the doctor’s certificate is indispensable for any further police or legal action against an alleged rapist. However, the price—25,000 to 30,000 CFA (US$60)—is a sum few women can afford. Appealing to a husband or father for the doctor’s report is difficult for many women who are financially dependent on the male members of their families and who fear being blamed or rejected by their family as a result of the rape.

One aid worker whose organization assisted the father of a minor raped by civilians during the war said that the father had spent over 100,000 CFA (US$200) on medical and legal expenses, and that the legal process lasted two years before the suspected rapists were tried.229 The Rule of Law Unit at ONUCI found in its review of the Ivorian justice system that procedurally, rape cases do indeed tend to be quite lengthy, discouraging victims. Indeed, some magistrates reclassify the facts in rape cases as indecent attempts, violence, or assault and battery in order to avoid protracted procedures.230 Delays and inefficiencies leave victims frustrated as they run out of money, patience, and time.

Judicial Gender Discrimination and Inadequate Attention to Violence Against Women

According to local women’s rights organizations, the authorities do not adequately investigate and adjudicate cases of non-conflict related sexual violence.231 These groups maintain that societal attitudes that undermine the seriousness of sexual violence and that tend to put blame for sexual assault on the victim undermine the lack of justice for victims.232 A report by the United States Department of State in 2005 characterized the problem this way:

The courts and police viewed domestic violence as a family problem unless serious bodily harm was inflicted or the victim lodged a complaint, in which case they could initiate criminal proceedings. Rape was a problem, although its extent was unknown because the government did not collect statistics on rape or other physical abuse of women. Women’s advocacy groups continued to protest the indifference of authorities to female victims of violence; however, women who reported rape or domestic violence to the police were often ignored.233

The indifference of high level decision-makers and members of government echoes that of the justice system and shapes prevailing discourse. It is reflected in comments made by then-Public Sector, Labor, and Administrative Reform Minister (Ministre de la Fonction Publique, de l’Emploi et de la Réforme Administrative) Hubert Oulaye when asked about the 2004 rape in Guiglo of ten girls from the Guéré community. When then-Gender Minster Constance Yai pressed for the case to move forward, Oulaye stated that he had too many vital pressing cases to be able to respond to this one, and said that it was “just a woman’s issue,” and “not worth worrying about.”234

A staff member of the Ivorian Women’s Bar Association conducted a review of the Abidjan tribunal’s records to review data on the prosecution of sexual violence cases. She found that many members of the judiciary downplay the importance of sexual violence, display undue and illegal leniency to sex offenders even in routine matters not involving government troops, and question victims of sexual violence inappropriately.235 The lenient attitude to sex offenses is apparent in the case of a male teacher who was convicted in 2006 of raping eight girls aged four to twelve. He received a sentence of just one month, despite the fact that this violated sentencing guidelines. One social worker who had followed the case closely and assisted the victims’ families lamented,

How could they sentence this man to just one month? He raped so many girls. They are very little. He really traumatized them, you know. What will happen to these children now? They will let him go back and teach more children and he will do it again. There were even other girls he raped but they did not come to court with the others because their parents did not want it. I think it is wrong, how this was decided. I do not believe in the courts any more.236

Rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced incest, domestic violence, and forced marriage are violations of women’s fundamental human rights. To its credit, the government of Côte d’Ivoire has ratified many of the key international instruments guaranteeing women’s equality and right to live free of violence237 and has passed a number of domestic laws prohibiting gender-based violence.238 Regrettably, however, the record of failure to prevent, investigate, and prosecute violence against women discussed in this report means that the authorities are failing to meet their international legal obligations.

Harmful Traditional Practices and Customary Law Dominate Women’s Lives

Customary justice dominates adjudication of the vast majority of legal disputes which should, by law, be adjudicated in the national courts. For instance, a study in western Côte d’Ivoire by an international NGO revealed that 85 percent of all disputes are adjudicated by the village chief (Chef du village) or the land chief (Chef de terre).239 Community leaders, victims, witnesses, and NGOs in other regions report similarly high use of traditional or customary justice throughout the entire country. Some legal practitioners have suggested that the use of traditional justice has increased since the conflict, primarily due to the disruption in official judicial institutions. Many police officers themselves refer crimes, including sexual abuse, to traditional leaders for resolution as ‘friendly settlements’ throughout the country.240

Customary law is not a monolith; there may be as many customary legal systems as there are ethnic groups in Côte d’Ivoire. However, nearly all systems of Ivorian customary law minimize punishments for sexual violence and undermine protection for rape victims, thereby reflecting prevailing societal attitudes that undercut the gravity of sexual violence against women and girls. Under many forms of Ivorian customary law, only rape of a virgin is seen as a serious crime, while rape of a married woman or a non-virgin is often not considered a crime.

The notion of “friendly settlements” for sexual violence is widespread in many Ivorian ethnic groups; in cases where the perpetrator is known, the family (or superiors) of the perpetrator and the girl’s family will try to come to a “friendly settlement” which can involve an apology, agreement to marry the rape victim, or the payment of a fine or a white sheep or goat to the victim’s family. One case described to Human Rights Watch by the staff member of an international humanitarian organization illustrates this type of arrangement in a southwestern community near Guiglo: 

Sometime in the fall of 2006 a young girl was raped by two local guys. The girl was pregnant and begged them not to rape her but they did it anyway. The two men are ex-combatants. At first the family wanted help to get justice. Then there was a friendly settlement. The ultimate judgment was that the rape was not a problem. The tribal traditional authority who arbitrated the friendly settlement said that what is bad is that the sexual act took place in the open. The men were supposed to pay a goat. And the family was pressured to drop their official complaint. It was made clear that if they continued, the family would be banished. The dad said that we can’t bring someone to jail for a women’s issue.241

Sometimes the “friendly settlements” are accompanied by community rituals which are organized with the extended family and run by the village chief. The entire village is concerned by rape because the rape affects its collective identity, especially the rape of a child. According to some Ivorian customs, ancestors of the village are believed to become angry when a rape is committed. They believe this can bring bad luck to and damage the prosperity of an entire village. To avoid this fate, sacrifices are necessary, often involving a white sheep or goat, running water, and Kola nuts (Kola nuts are chewed as part of rituals in some places in Africa). Larger, community rituals appear to have less to do with purifying the victim’s body and more with assuaging ancestors. While the goals of rebuilding spiritual order in the community and public shaming or perpetrators are important, it is essential to note that the goal of these rituals is rarely to listen to and validate the experience of the survivor. Moreover, there is almost no confidentiality in such traditional or tribal mechanisms for dealing with rape.

Many survivors of sexual violence of Burkinabé origin (Moré and Dagari) have returned to their village or town of origin in order to undergo purification rites, which requires consultation with fetishes. The fetishes—objects believed to be of particular power and ritual significance—cannot be moved, thus all survivors must come to them. According to some Burkinabé community leaders, Burkinabé girls who had been raped needed to return to Burkina Faso to be purified in their respective families as a precondition for resuming a normal life. One NGO explained the situation as follows:

Even if you are in a country on the other side of the world, if someone raped you, you have to come to the home country to make sacrifices. Otherwise you are chased from the family. If they don’t reject you and you become pregnant, your father and your brothers will die if you talk with them.242

Inadequate International Responses to Combat Impunity

The international community has consistently sidelined initiatives to combat impunity in Côte d’Ivoire, presumably due to a fear of upsetting negotiation efforts.243 For example, the international community has been unresolved in its implementation of a UN Security Council resolution providing for sanctions against persons implicated in human rights abuses; in pressing for the publication of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Commission of Inquiry report; or in demanding prosecutions. For their part, the ECOWAS community and the African Union have been weak in systematically condemning human rights abuses by regional governments. This weakness is very likely due in part to the dubious human rights records of many of the ruling governments in their home countries.

United Nations Sanctions

Despite repeated threats to impose sanctions on Ivorians who violate human rights, break the arms embargo, indulge in hate speech, or block the peace process, the UN Security Council has only imposed travel and economic sanctions against three mid-level individuals: Charles Blé Goudé and Eugène Djué of the Young Patriots, and Martin Kouakou Fofié, a New Forces commander in Korhogo.244

The sanctions, imposed on Feb 7, 2006, were largely motivated by the January 2006 attacks against United Nations personnel.245 While internationally supported initiatives designed to restrain abusers and combat impunity are welcome and necessary, it is unfortunate that such measures were only activated after United Nations personnel and material interests were the object of attack.

Subsequent attempts to impose sanctions against additional individuals in late 2006—Affi N’Guessan and Mamadou Coulibaly, both leaders in Gbagbo’s FPI party—were formally stymied by China and Russia in the Sanctions Committee.246 Throughout 2006, South Africa—under the leadership of President Thabo Mbeki, who at the time served as AU mediator in the Ivorian conflict—also created a serious impediment to wider and more consistent use of sanctions through persistent and vigorous behind-the-scenes lobbying, arguing that application of sanctions would seriously impede the on-going peace process.247

To date no further sanctions have been handed down. Human Rights Watch believes that the logic of putting justice and other mechanisms of restraint on hold for an elusive final settlement denies victims the right to see those responsible for serious human rights crimes held accountable. Instead, this kind of strategy appears to have served to embolden perpetrators and fed into the intransigence of the Ivorian government and New Forces.248  

In 2007, even the meager gains of the three existing sanctions could be rolled back. In the recently negotiated Ouagadougou accords, both parties expressed an intention to lift the individual sanctions that have been imposed, currently in force until October 31, 2007.249

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Commission of Inquiry

In addition to targeted sanctions against key perpetrators, other measures that might restrain abusers and combat impunity throughout Côte d’Ivoire appear to have been similarly put on hold. For example, following a request by all parties to the Linas-Marcoussis agreement to investigate serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated in Côte d’Ivoire since September 19, 2002, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) dispatched a Commission of Inquiry to Côte d’Ivoire.

The UN Commission of Inquiry report relating to serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law since September 19, 2002 was handed to the UN Secretary-General in November 2004, and was transmitted to the UN Security Council on December 23, 2004. Release of the report and corresponding debate, especially its recommendations, would likely generate much-needed discussion about how to tackle impunity in Côte d’Ivoire.

However, the UN Security Council has yet to make public or to discuss the findings of the report. The failure to discuss the findings of the report, much less act upon them, sends the wrong signal to abusers.  

International Criminal Court (ICC) 

One crucial means by which to help combat impunity in Côte d’Ivoire could be the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, resistance by Ivorian authorities to the ICC conducting a mission to Côte d’Ivoire is undermining this possibility. The ICC prosecutor has also missed opportunities to use his position to promote accountability for serious crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire.

Côte d’Ivoire is not a party to the ICC, but in 2003 Côte d’Ivoire accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory since September 19, 2002. On January 28, 2005, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, announced that the ICC intended to send a team to Côte d’Ivoire to assess the possibility of opening an investigation. Later that year, on November 28, 2005, the ICC prosecutor again indicated that an ICC team would visit Côte d’Ivoire. The visit, which was planned for early 2006, was intended to fulfill several important goals: 1) to collect information on whether the crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire are sufficiently grave to fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction; 2) to collect information on whether the judicial system has the capacity and willingness to address such crimes; and 3) to assess the possible impact of an ICC investigation in Côte d’Ivoire. However, the government has yet to allow the ICC’s mission to Côte d’Ivoire to take place.

It is crucial that that the Ivorian government immediately permit the ICC to conduct a mission to Côte d’Ivoire so that the ICC can obtain information necessary to assess opening an investigation there. The Ivorian government should also provide the ICC with any cooperation necessary to facilitate such a mission.

A more proactive engagement by the ICC prosecutor regarding the situation in Côte d’Ivoire is also warranted. The ICC prosecutor has made only minimal public statements on a possible role for the ICC in ensuring accountability for crimes in Côte d’Ivoire and has not actively promoted domestic or international prosecutions. Human Rights Watch believes public and private communications indicating the ICC’s interest in accountability for past abuses committed in Côte d’Ivoire could help contribute to stemming ongoing abuses. The ICC should in particular send a clear message to perpetrators that the ICC is monitoring abuses committed in Côte d’Ivoire and perpetrators of serious crimes must be held to account.

197 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire, p. 59.

198 Ordonnance n° 2007 457 of April 12, 2007, “Regarding Amnesty;” Loucoumane Coulibaly, “Ivory Coast grants amnesty as peace plan advances,” Reuters, Abidjan, April 13, 2007.

199 Human Rights Watch interview with rape victim, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

200 Human Rights Watch interview with a doctor at a hospital in Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

201 Human Rights Watch, Because They Have Guns.

202 Ibid.

203 Ibid, footnote 90: Human Rights Watch interviews with New Forces leaders, Abidjan and Bouaké, March 2006. New Forces officials report that in the past there was friction between New Forces police commissioners and New Forces military commanders, who often would not accept the arrest of their soldiers. Placing a military officer at the head of the police forces was a “political solution” designed to ease tensions between New Forces police and the military.

204 Ibid, footnote 88: Human Rights Watch interviews with New Forces officials and UN sources, Bouaké, March 2006.

205 Ibid, footnote 89: In addition, in August 2005, 537 volunteer policemen were given a 45 day training with the help of ONUCI. Human Rights Watch interviews with UN sources and New Forces leaders, Abidjan and Bouaké, March 2006.

206 Ibid, footnote 92.

207 Ibid, p. 31.

208 Human Rights Watch interviews with human rights monitors and New Forces leaders, Abidjan and Bouaké, March 2006.

209 Human Rights Watch, “Because They Have the Guns, footnote 92.

210 Human Rights Watch interview with members of the human rights section of the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), who told Human Rights Watch that as of late 2006, they had yet to document a case of rebel-perpetrated sexual violence which had been investigated, tried, and punished in accordance with international standards.

211 Ibid.

212 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of a local community development organization, Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

213 Human Rights Watch interview with a community leader, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

214 Human Rights Watch interview with a community leader, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

215 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of a local community development organization, Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

216 Ibid.

217 ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Report N° 6, May – June – July – August 2006, 2007.

218 Human Rights Watch interviews with nine national and international organizations, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

219 Human Rights Watch interviews with a senior former rebel spokesperson, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

220 The legal analysis in this paragraph is based on a previously published review of command responsibility in Human Rights Watch, Sudan – Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur, December 2005, vol. 17, no. 17 (A), Commanders of armed rebel groups are not exempt from command responsibility, a fundamental and well-established principle of customary international law. In fact, they are directly responsible for unlawful orders.

221 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Francoise Simard, Chief Rule of Law Unit, ONUCI, March 13, 2007. In addition to mentioning the Malian victim of rape, Mr. Kouamé discussed two other cases: 1) a young girl was raped by a policeman in Yamoussoukro, which was his sixth case of rape. The policeman has been moved to Abidjan allegedly to be tried before the Military Tribunal. 2) In Alépé, a girl student was gang raped by members of CECOS (a government force composed of police, gendarmes, and military, and charged with maintaining public security). The CECOS forces concerned have had their salary suspended and are allegedly waiting to be tried before the Military Tribunal.

222 Human Rights Watch interviews with consular officials, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

223 Amnesty International, Targeting Women.

224 Human Rights Watch interview with Koné Nabalassé, Korhogo Police Prefect (Préfet de police), Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

225 Human Rights Watch interviews with rape victim, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

226 United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Côte d'Ivoire: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005, March 8, 2006.; U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Corruption and Distrust in the Côte d'Ivoire Police: A Deep-rooted Problem, Special Focus Brief, Côte d’Ivoire scored 151st out of 163 countries on Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI). CPI scores relate to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt). Transparency International gave Côte d’Ivoire a 2.1 score. Transparency International, Corruptions Perceptions Index 2005,

227 Office of the United States Trade Representative, Côte d’Ivoire 2004 Report, 2004, available at

228 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

229 Human Rights Watch interview with staff member of an international humanitarian organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

230 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Francoise Simard, Chief Rule of Law Unit, ONUCI, March 13, 2007.

231 Human Rights Watch interviews with leaders of women’s rights organizations, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

232 As of 2005, there were four women justices on the Supreme Court out of 41 Supreme Court justices. See, United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2005. This report also highlights the lack of judicial activity with respect to violence against women. For additional overviews of discriminatory judiciary attitudes, see United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2002; United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2003; United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2004.

233 Ibid. This report also highlights the lack of judicial activity with respect to violence against women: “The Government does not collect statistics on rape or other physical abuse of women. The Government has no clear policy regarding spousal abuse beyond what is contained in the civil code. The law forbids and provides criminal penalties for forced or early marriage and sexual harassment, but says nothing about spousal abuse.” For additional overviews of discriminatory judiciary attitudes, seeUnited States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2002; United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2003; United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2004; United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Côte d'Ivoire 2005.

234 Human Rights Watch interview with former minister Constance Yai, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 14, 2006.

235 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of the bar association, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

236 Human Rights Watch interviews with Berte Zanga, leader of a local children’s rights organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

237 Côte d'Ivoire ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on December 20, 1995.

238 Article 354 of the Penal Code of 1982 of Côte d’Ivoire specifically criminalizes rape; law n°98/757 of of Côte d’Ivoire December 23, 1998 criminalizes sexual mutilations assimilated to gender-based violence; law n°98/756 of Côte d’Ivoire of December 23, 1998 penalizes sexual harassment, forced labor, and forced or early marriages.

239 Report by an international humanitarian organization, unpublished document [on file with Human Rights Watch], hereinafter Problems of Rural Communities in 18 Montagnes.

240 Anonymous NGO, Sexual violence in 18 Montagnes.

241 Human Rights Watch interview with staff member in an international humanitarian organization, Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire, September 29, 2006.

242 Anonymous NGO, Sexual Violence in 18 Montagnes.

243 For earlier Human Rights Watch analyses of the reluctance of the international community to address the growing problem of impunity, seeHuman Rights Watch, The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse. For an earlier Human Rights Watch analysis of the human rights costs of the proliferation of militias, and the government’s use of hate speech that incites violence, seeHuman Rights Watch, Côte d’Ivoire – Country on a Precipice: The Precarious State of Human Rights and Civilian Protection in Côte d’Ivoire, vol. 17, no. 6 (A), May 2005,

244 Under resolution 1572, persons constituting, inter alia, “a threat to the peace and national reconciliation process in Côte d’Ivoire” or “any other person determined as responsible for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Côte d’Ivoire” may be designated by the Sanctions Committee. See UN Security Council Resolution 1572, S/RES/1572 (2004). These provisions were renewed in late 2006 in UN Security Council Resolution 1727, S/RES/1727 (2006).

245 Human Rights Watch, Because They Have Guns.

246 Human Rights Watch interview with a diplomat posted to a permanent mission to the United Nations, New York, January 10, 2007.

247 Ibid.

248 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007: Côte d’Ivoire, January 2007,

249 United Nations Security Council resolution 1727, para. 1, S/RES/1727 (2006).