Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

Cote d'Ivoire: Positive Sign for Justice - Government Should Enhance Support for Special Investigative Unit

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press release

The government should also strongly consider revising the special cell's mandate to focus specifically on the serious crimes committed between December 2010 and May 2011, the period of the postelection crisis. The original decree, signed on June 24, 2011, called for the body to "perform judicial investigations relative to events in Côte d'Ivoire after December 4, 2010." The lack of a clearly defined endpoint allowed the Ouattara government to task the special investigative cell with investigating threats against state security in 2012. The mounting caseload has made it difficult for the special cell to focus on the violent crimes during the postelection crisis, which tend to be sensitive and complex cases.

To investigate and prosecute crimes committed since the crisis, which are generally less complex and raise fewer security concerns, the government should continue its notable efforts to strengthen the regular criminal justice system.

Since the end of the crisis, progress toward justice has been largely one-sided. Investigations of the devastating crimes committed by pro-Gbagbo forces during the crisis have had some success, leading to charges against more than 150 civilian and military leaders as well as the conviction in military court of nine members of Gbagbo's armed forces. The government should be commended for repeatedly rejecting the calls from Gbagbo's party for a general amnesty that would include international crimes, although greater efforts are needed to hold trials swiftly for those in pretrial detention.

Unfortunately, the serious crimes by pro-Ouattara forces have not received the same attention. Although the national commission of inquiry reported in August 2012 that Ouattara's Republican Forces summarily executed at least 545 people during the crisis, there has yet to be a single arrest for these crimes.

A new round of trials in Côte d'Ivoire's military court does include some Republican Forces soldiers. But none of the trials concern the serious crimes by members of the Republican Forces in relation to the postelection crisis. The first trial, for example, was for a case of manslaughter by a low-level soldier in September 2011.

"Victims of grave crimes committed by the Republican Forces during the postelection crisis deserve the opportunity to see justice done," Bekele said. "To end the impunity that has fueled violence in Côte d'Ivoire over the last decade, authorities need to redouble efforts to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed by the victors as well as by the defeated."

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