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.
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid