Last week, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara met with two of his predecessors as part of a controversial reconciliation effort critics say is, in fact, standing in the way of justice.
President Ouattara hosted Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bedie in the presidential palace in Abidjan on July 14, as part of renewed efforts at salvaging the protracted reconciliation process that has been held back by divisive, ethno-geopolitical differences stemming back two decades. The meeting came exactly one year since the first between President Ouattara and Mr Gbagbo, after the later was acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges related to the 2010 post-election violence.
Known as the second Ivorian civil war, that crisis between 2010 and 2011 was sparked by the refusal of Mr Gbagbo to accept defeat at the hands of President Ouattara. Rebel forces supporting President Ouattara then subsequently descended on the capital, Abidjan and ousted Mr Gbagbo.
Over 3,000 people lost their lives in the five months long violence that also saw thousands of others displaced.
Rights campaigners now say President Ouattara has betrayed expectations for justice for his desire to cling on to power under the cloak of reconciliation.
The meeting between the three political leaders coincided with the publication of a report by a coalition of human rights campaigners who say the reconciliation process has not only prevented justice for victims but it also promoted impunity.
The Belgium-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme (Lidho) and the Mouvement ivoirien des droits humains (MIDH) say the hope for justice for survivors and families of victims were progressively dashed by a constant weakening of political will to fight impunity.
In a report, ‘Côte d’Ivoire: From justice sacrificed in the name of ’reconciliation’ to justice instrumentalised by politics,’ they say the country has a “worrying state of justice” since the 2010-2011 crisis, and that there is a lack of prospects for justice at the international level and the expectations of victims and survivors in the face of “persistent impunity.”
Among the victims are over 150 women who were raped. They say armed forces on both sides sometimes targeted civilians on the basis of their political, ethnic, or religious affiliation.
“Based on an analysis of the evolution of the judicial management of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis by the Ivorian authorities over the past 11 years, the joint report by FIDH, MIDH and LIDHO demonstrates and denounces how the authorities have frustrated efforts to bring justice for the crimes of the post-election crisis and the extent to which political power has interfered in judicial matters,” they note in a statement. Following his re-election in 2015, President Ouattara made renewed commitments for justice for victims of the war and to uproot impunity. His administration put in place several mechanisms geared towards realising this, including creation of a Special Investigation Unit, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the National Commission for Reconciliation and Compensation of Victims.
By August 2018, over 150 people had been indicted by the Special Investigation Unit for blood crimes. They included allies of both the Ouattara and Gbagbo.
Drissa Traoré, Secretary-general of FIDH, says they welcomed all the legal moves taken. He, however, lamented that the government has either slowed, reversed or halted much of those actions in the last five years. “Today, we observe that most proceedings have come to a halt; responsibilities have not been clearly determined; the overwhelming majority of the alleged perpetrators, benefiting from amnesty, have not been held to account before the courts; and the victims have been neglected. The cycle of impunity continues,” he said this week.
According to the campaigners, signs of the dying interest for justice began setting in shortly before the 2015 elections, when President Ouattara announced his controversial amnesty process.
He subsequently granted amnesty to 800 people.
“Since 2018, FIDH, MIDH and LIDHO have spoken out against this decision and emphasise that amnesty must not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses,” said Willy Neth, President of LIDHO.
“Not only is it contrary to the obligations of the Ivorian state, which has ratified the major international and regional human rights treaties, but it is also a decision that shows contempt for the victims by allowing alleged perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to escape prosecution.”
The campaigners say the display of lack of interest in justice by the Ivorian government is only meant to fulfil Ouattara’s desire for political dominance. They say that this is illustrated by the increased instrumentalisation of the judiciary with differentiated judicial treatment and harassment of members of the opposition.
They cite events in the run-up to the last presidential elections in 2020 and in the first year of the president’s third term in 2021, when the judiciary was used as a “tool” of control and power by the executive to prosecute several political opponents.