10 September 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Respect for Fundamental Freedoms, the Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary Must Be Guaranteed

press release

FIDH and its member organisations in Ivory Coast, LIDHO and MIDH, express their deep concern over the recent violence and spate of arrests that have taken place in the country. Our organisations call on Ivorian authorities to ensure the safety of the population, to conduct an impartial investigation in order to shed light on these events and to identify those responsible, and to ensure the independence and impartiality of the Ivorian judiciary.

Tensions have renewed in Ivory Coast, both in Abidjan and in the west of the country. In late July, our organisations denounced the murders committed in the town of Duékoué and in the Nahibly refugee camp, where at least 11 people were killed. On 5 and 6 August, in Akouédo, in the district of Yopougon in Abidjan, 11 members of the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) were killed by unidentified armed men at an army base and a police station. During the ongoing investigation into these attacks, numerous arrests were made by the FRCI, not by the police or the gendarmerie. As of today, 54 civilians and 19 soldiers remain in custody, charged with public disturbance, attack on national security, or murder.

"The radicalisation of positions between the camps of the former and the current president, and the increased presence of the FRCI in public create an atmosphere of psychosis and panic among civilians, evoking memories of the dark hours of the post-election crisis," said René Hokou Legré, LIDHO President. "The Ivorian authorities should reassure civilians, and ensure their safety by the forces normally utilized in times of peace, such as the police and the gendarmerie," said Yacouba Doumbia, MIDH President.

On 18 August, the headquarters of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the party of former President Laurent Gbagbo, was attacked in broad daylight by armed assailants. Two people were injured and the vehicle of an FPI member was set on fire. That same evening, the headquarters of the Groupe Cyclone, which publishes the pro-Gbagbo newspaper Le Temps, was ransacked by unidentified men. The unknown assailants wounded a guard, stole computer equipment, and attempted to set the building on fire. The result was the organisation, on 24 and 25 August, of two days of "dead media", during which none of the six pro-Gbagbo newspapers were published.

"These infringements of civil and political rights, including the right to the freedoms of expression and of the press, are not conducive to the consolidation of the rule of law to which the Ivorian authorities are committed," said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. "It is incumbent upon Ivorian authorities to ensure all these rights are respected," she said.

In this unstable climate, a wave of arrests swept through the ranks of the FPI. On August 18, Alphonse Douati, Deputy Secretary General of FPI, was arrested by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST), and held in the central prison of Abidjan (MACA). On 24 August, Ghana arrested Justin Koné Katinan, spokesman for the former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, and he is now facing possible extradition to Ivory Coast. On 26 August, Akoun Lawrence, General Secretary of the FPI was arrested in Adzope, near Abidjan, on his way to a meeting. Detained since 28 August, he was charged with disorderly conduct for public remarks he made at an FPI meeting on 3 August. He was sentenced to six months in prison, although the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of five years. These arrests are in addition to the ongoing detentions of, Simone Gbagbo, wife of the former President, and Pascal Affi N'Guessan, Chairman of the FPI.

"The national judicial proceedings must proceed in a transparent, independent and impartial manner, on the recent events, as well as on the post-election crisis. Let us remember that the International Criminal Court has seized the situation in Ivory Coast, is closely following the national proceedings, and regularly assesses the willingness and ability of Ivorian authorities to investigate and prosecute those most responsible for international crimes, regardless of their [political] camp," said Sidiki Kaba, FIDH Honorary President. "The Ivorian authorities must avoid contributing to feelings of stigmatization and distrust among the people, which can only strain the process of national reconciliation - a pressing challenge for Ivory Coast," he added.

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