Human rights lawyer Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, said some Ivorians believe that impartial justice is essential to bringing about reconciliation.
Singh said justice cannot be seen as just an instrument of the victorious, but rather justice must be blind in terms of political affiliations.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) Thursday made public an indictment against Simone Gbagbo, wife of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, for crimes against humanity.
The charges include "murder, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, other inhumane acts, and persecution." Her husband is already in ICC custody awaiting trial on similar charges.
Singh said the arrest warrant means Gbagbo is heavily implicated in the decision-making that led to the commission of widespread crimes.
"From our perspective, we think that it’s important for the Ivorian authorities to cooperate fully with [the] ICC, either by surrendering Simone to The Hague or demonstrating the necessary capacity to try her in Cote d’Ivoire,” she said.
The ICC accuses Gbagbo of being her husband’s “alter ego” in orchestrating a campaign of election violence in 2010, in which 3,000 people died.
Reports said Gbagbo, who has been under detention for 18 months in the northwestern Ivorian town of Odienne, began testifying on November 13.
Her arrest warrant is the first to be issued by the ICC for a woman. Singh said this means the court has concluded that there is enough evidence to arrest her.
“I think what it says about the ICC is that they are willing to follow the allegations and the evidence regardless of whether or not the suspected perpetrator is a man or a woman. So, I think that, in issuing the arrest warrant, the court has decided that there is enough evidence to arrest her in order to have her answer to the crimes that she allegedly committed,” Singh said.
Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party Thursday condemned the arrest warrant as unjust. Supporters of the former president criticized the ICC accusing it of uneven-handedness.
Singh said many Ivorians have told Human Rights Watch that, until there is impartial justice and until they are confident in the judicial system and in the rule of law, it would be very difficult to achieve reconciliation.
“I think that, in terms of the feelings in the Ivory Coast, certainly among the people that we spoke to in civil society, and what we heard time and again is that in impartial justice is essential to reconciliation, and, while we welcome the arrest warrant against Simone Gbagbo, it only underscores the urgency of the national authorities and the ICC conducting credible investigations and evidence permitting prosecutions of those in the pro-Ouattara forces,” she said.
The ICC has said it is committed to an impartial investigation and that it will only commence an investigation of alleged crimes by forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara once it has completed its investigation of crimes allegedly committed by pro-Gbagbo forces.
“From our perspective, and certainly what we heard time and again in Cote d’Ivoire was that, this is a problematic policy because it does create the impression that the ICC is only interested in one-sided justice, and it certainly has sent a message to authorities in Cote d’Ivoire that one-sided justice or this sequence approach is appropriate and acceptable,” she said.