News / Africa

Impunity, Lack of Election, Hang Over Ivory Coast Independence Day

Many killings in Ivory Coast, including by members of the security forces, have gone unaccounted for in recent years.
Many killings in Ivory Coast, including by members of the security forces, have gone unaccounted for in recent years.

As Ivory Coast prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence on August 7, impunity, a lack of elections, and the constant threat of political violence hangs over the divided country.

At a recent event in Washington, a civil society representative from Ivory Coast, Patrick Ngouan, explained Ivory Coast faces a dilemma. He said there were two options, either to deal with its history of impunity, or to give the priority to long-delayed elections.

Ngouan said he favors having a free and fair election first, and then letting the next government deal with judicial issues.

Since the 1990s, there have been a series of massacres, army uprisings and ethnic clashes across Ivory Coast which have killed thousands of people but which, in terms of justice, have gone unaccounted for.

Elections due in 2005 have been repeatedly postponed amid difficulties to implement a peace deal between northern-based rebels and President Laurent Gbagbo.

Rebels want millions of previously undocumented northerners to be able to vote, while supporters of Mr. Gbagbo say non-Ivorians should not falsify their nationality and gain voting rights.

While the question of who is an Ivorian is central to the conflict, a visiting professor at Duke University, and former journalist who covered Ivory Coast, Stephen Smith, says breaking the cycle of impunity seems impossible in the current context.

"For the peace process and for any political bargaining going on, you will always have to use justice as a bargaining chip.  As soon as a few individuals are put on a list as being the spoilers, then they turn around and prove precisely that they have that power of nuisance. If you want to reach an agreement, if you want to move forward and maybe hold these elections one day, then you will need these spoilers and bring them along," he said.

Mr. Gbagbo and some of his closest supporters have denied having any link to a series of unexplained killings of prominent Ivorians in the government-run south which followed the start of the northern rebellion in late 2002.

Just hours after the rebel uprising started, the former military ruler General Robert Guei was found shot dead in the streets in his pajamas, in circumstances that also remain unclear.  Since fighting between rebels, militias and the army stopped, there have also been several deadly crackdowns on civilian protests in the south, and several instances of massacres between different factions in the rebel-held north.

David Crane, the founder of U.S.-based Impunity Watch, says there is little chance of a special international court for Ivory Coast, because there have been much fewer dead than in other conflicts.

"In a cynical, war-crimes weary world that we live in, if you compare what has taken place in Cote d'Ivoire to Liberia or to Sierra Leone, it is not the greatest atrocity, and unfortunately politicians and diplomats tend to look at this for cost efficiencies and they are not going to look at this with a great deal of enthusiasm," he said.

Still, Crane says, some Ivorians, including President Gbagbo, could face international justice.  Crane points to Mr. Gbagbo's past as a regional adversary of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now facing trial for war crimes he allegedly committed in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Gbagbo has denied the claims he backed one of the rebel groups fighting against Mr. Taylor, which also fought against western-based Ivory Coast rebels.

Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University and West Africa expert, says impunity started back 20 years ago, when the cocoa-reliant Ivorian economy started to slide.

"It has been a huge problem.  I mean it has obviously been a problem for the women who have been raped, the people who have lost family members, the extrajudicial killings, but it has also become a problem in the sense that you do have a situation in which political actors have recourse to lethal violence or the kinds of violence that will terrorize populations rather than going to the ballot box," he said.

McGovern says, even if elections do take place, the violence of politics in Ivory Coast must be addressed for a working democracy to take hold.

Many commentators in Ivory Coast have also said the timing is not right for a celebration, but that reflection is needed, as well as reconciliation.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid