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Human Rights Activists Criticize One-Sided Justice in Ivory Coast

  • Anne Look

Human rights activists are criticizing Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara's regime for only arresting and charging his enemies following a six-month, post-electoral power struggle that plunged the country back into civil war.

This week saw dozens of allies to former Ivorian leader, Laurent Gbagbo, face charges in relation to post-electoral violence, including 58 army officers accused Thursday of crimes ranging from murder and rape to buying illegal arms and recruiting mercenaries.

In total, Ivory Coast has charged as many as 94 military and political allies of Mr. Gbagbo, who remains under arrest following his capture by forces loyal to current president, Alassane Ouattara, in April.

Since taking office in May, Mr. Ouattara has repeatedly promised to investigate abuses and bring perpetrators on both sides to justice.

Rights groups say he must follow up his statements with action.

Vice President of the Ivorian Movement for Human Rights, Doumbia Yacouba, says so far, only Gbagbo allies have been arrested, even though it has been established and recognized by the government that there were violent acts committed by both sides. Yacouba says for justice to be credible, it must be balanced. He says they expect to see arrests made in Mr. Ouattara's camp as well.

Yacouba says the justice system is still in disorder, but once prisons are operational again and judges are trained and back in their offices, there will be no more excuses.

Pressure on the new president to act is expected to increase following Thursday's announcement by the U.N. Mission in Ivory Coast that the country's armed forces have carried out 26 extrajudicial killings in the past month, many of them in the country's still volatile west.

The rights representative for the U.N. mission, Guillaume Ngefa, said his office has documented more than 100 human rights violations between mid-July and mid-August. He said those included 85 illegal arrests.

The Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, as the country's new integrated army is called, incorporates former rebel fighters from the North who were instrumental in bringing Mr. Ouattara to power.

Matt Wells is the Ivory Coast researcher for international watchdog, Human Rights Watch. "It's less and less possible each day for the government to claim that these are just out of control elements. This is now the official army of Cote d'Ivoire, and it's time for the government both its civilian and military leaders to step up and make sure that there is control," he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented reprisal killings, war crimes and abuses by forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara both during and after their April offensive.

HRW expressed concern earlier this week when Mr. Ouattara promoted two former rebel commanders who have been accused of grave human rights abuses to new posts within the Republican Forces.

One of them, Martin Kouakou Fofié, has been on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list since 2006 for violations committed during the first Ivorian conflict.

HRW researcher Wells says these commanders need to be brought to justice. "Certainly there's the reality that many of these commanders, of the former Forces Nouvelles that became the Republican Forces, swept Ouattara into power, but at the same time Ouattara owes more than anything to the victims on both sides in order to move the country forward, to remove the country from the nightmare of impunity that has haunted it for the past decade," he said.

Violence began in Ivory Coast following a November presidential poll when Mr. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Mr. Ouattara. Pro-Gbagbo militia and security forces are accused of turning heavy artillery on civilians and inciting attacks of West African immigrants, among other abuses.

In all, rights groups say the post-electoral crisis killed more than 3,000 civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.