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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid