25 October 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Trials Could Begin By End of Year, Minister Says

New York — Prosecution of those charged in connection with massive post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire could start by the end of this year, Minister of Justice Loma Matto Cissé said today, adding that wide-ranging legal reforms are under way.

"We have set up a special agency comprising public prosecutors, investigating judges, and police--this agency is charged with investigating crimes committed after the [2010] elections so those who ordered and carried out these crimes will be judged under the law," she told a panel at the International Peace Institute focused on the rule of law in Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ."The judges will have total independence. If they maintain their current momentum, the first trials will take place before the end of the year."

Violence in the 2010-2011 post-election crisis left an estimated 3,000 people dead and 500,000 displaced.

"The moral wounds... are so deep it would be foolish to think we could achieve reconciliation without giving victims of grave human rights abuses some assurance justice would be done," she told a panel on "Strengthening Rule of Law in Crisis-Affected Contexts."

As a result of Côte d'Ivoire's recent crisis, "the system was so disrupted that it lost the confidence of investors," Minister Matto Cissé said. "The justice system was paralyzed. We had a justice system in total chaos and had to confront a system of generalized insecurity." With international support, the West African country is rehabilitating courthouses, prisons, and juvenile centers while tackling corruption and drafting commercial laws aimed at attracting international trade partners and investors, she said.

Jordan Ryan, director of UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, cited political will in the new Ivorian government to launch a new era defined by rule of law, despite "enormous challenges" and a continuing threat of violence.

UNDP and the Department of Peacekeping Operations (DPKO) now constitute UN Global Focal Points for crisis-affected countries dealing with justice, police, and corrections, following a recent decision by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "This system is building on work already underway in Chad, Guinea-Bissua, Haiti, Liberia, Libya, South Sudan, and Timor Leste, in addition to our joint programmes in Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo," Ryan said.

"It aims to strengthen national ownership and empower actors on the ground, including civil society, to make sure Rule of Law works to protect the vulnerable and assure people that justice is fair and justice is accessible," he added.

Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Peacekeeping Operation, urged Cote d'Ivoire to focus on hiring and intensively training politically neutral police and prison guards and to ensure all criminals are brought to justice, regardless of political affiliation.

"If there is a future crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, it will be over land," Titov said. "Land is a formidable challenge, and the sooner donors rally around this issue and help resolve it the better."

Prof. Nyabirungu Mwene Songa, Chef de Cabinet in the Ministry of Justice, Democratic Republic of Congo, listed numerous legal reforms undertaken in the central African country, following years of conflict.

"Laws are not enough, but they are necessary," he said. "My government is very aware of the challenges it faces in seting up a definitive and enduring system based on rule of law."

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