Cote d'Ivoire must prioritize effective consultations and ensure meaningful engagement with victims and civil society throughout the country in its efforts to provide reparations to victims of political violence that engulfed the country during the disputed 2010 presidential elections.
In order to build public confidence in the transitional justice process, as well as to ensure its effectiveness, a more comprehensive outreach plan is needed to guarantee access for those who have been marginalized from participation.
With this in mind, ICTJ and local organizations have begun a process of consultation with victims and communities affected by the post-election violence about their needs and demands for reparations.
ICTJ has partnered with the local NGO Bonne Action, of Duékoué, and is in conversation with other organizations in the city of Bouaké, in a mapping process which will identify individual victims as well as organizations that are not usually involved in discussions about human rights and the rights of victims, but that have victims among their members.
"The aim is to get the voices of victims beyond those that are always consulted - to have victims who are usually ignored as part of the process of defining demands and proposals for reparations," said Cristián Correa, Senior Associate of ICTJ's Reparative Justice Program. "Without their perspectives, any future reparations programs risk missing their mark."
The Ivorian transition
During its 2010 presidential elections, Cote d'Ivoire was wracked by political violence. After former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to turn over his seat to the current President Alassane Ouattara, fierce clashes broke out, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their communities.
In March 2011, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate violations of international law during the six months following the elections, and found that responsibility for grave human rights abuses lay with armed forces in both political camps.
A number of transitional justice efforts were set into motion in Cote d'Ivoire following the cessation of violence. In keeping with UN recommendations, President Ouattara established the Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR), which is tasked with establishing patterns of violence, investigating the root causes of the conflict, and coming up with ways that the country might overcome its violent past through reconciliation and victim recognition.
In addition to the truth commission, two investigative bodies were also set up. The Cellule Spéciale d'Enquête (CSE), which became the Cellule Spéciale d'Enquête et d'Investigation in December 2013, was established to undertake judicial investigations into human rights abuses, and the Commission Nationale d'Enquete (CNE) was mandated to perform non-judicial investigations.
While violence may have subsided, for many communities the results of the upheaval are felt on a daily basis. In order for Cote d'Ivoire to move forward, reparations must fully acknowledge harms suffered; this can be ensured through an inclusive consultation process that includes views of all who were victims of the electoral violence.
Identifying needs of victims
Victims of conflict often face obstacles to access opportunities to participate in formal truth-seeking processes. For example, outreach efforts tend to be located in urban areas, leaving rural areas isolated and excluded from dialogue.
Such circumstances highlight the importance of community organizations with high numbers of victims as members, as well identifying neighborhoods and villages heavily affected by the conflict.
ICTJ and its local partners are making an effort to include women's groups and to reach those who represent women's interests who may not be ready to speak out or to be recognized as members of a victims' organization.
Care is being taken to ensure a balanced number of organizations from the political, ethnic and religious perspectives as well as for the different episodes and periods of violence.
During recent meetings in Abidjan, victims reported a wide range of consequences of the period of violence, and cited medical, financial, psychosocial, and educational obstacles that continue to impact their lives on a daily basis.
Those who spoke to ICTJ mentioned other forms of violations and consequences, including the destruction of villages, discrimination and lack of documentation and IDs, especially for spouses and children of the disappeared or those buried in mass graves, destruction of property, loss of land, and other forms of violations that need to be addressed but that are not covered by an approach exclusively limited to the most serious violations. They also mentioned the need to discuss urgent or interim forms of reparations or relief.
Chief Tahiba Jean of the Wé community in the city of Bangolo, who is also the chief of the canton and the president of the CDVR's local commission, said, "The first issue is security, as there is still some fear and tensions between communities. We [have a] need for trust building, social cohesion, and having people talking to each other again. The rehabilitation of roads will help... people [to] be able to travel and talk to each other, for building social cohesion."
Women who were victims of sexual assaults or rape continue to be ostracized by their communities, and are often abandoned by their husbands or in some cases rejected by their families. Children born from rape are often abandoned or exposed to different forms of abuse that often condemn them to poverty or affect their ability to complete their education.
Most of them struggle to feed their family members or are members of youth gangs and then they are vulnerable to political exploitation or to recruitment in armed groups. Victims also discussed the lack of access to medical care as an important and ongoing need.
ICTJ's consultation process has been positively received in local areas, as work continues to move beyond previous outreach efforts that were largely concentrated in Abidjan.
"We were welcomed and received support from different organizations in Duékoué and Bangolo, including chiefs of different ethnic groups and associations of victims that have opened their doors to us," said Didier Gbery, Program Associate at the ICTJ Côte d'Ivoire office.
"This demands great responsibility on our part. However, we have been very clear that the call for adequate reparations for victims must be a call from all Ivorians, not just advocacy groups or victims who will be the recipients. We are just facilitating an open process of civil engagement."
Based on the mapping and identification of organizations and non-organized victims, ICTJ will put together a set of consultation sessions in three areas of the country affected by different episodes and forms of violence, including Duékoué, Bouaké, and the neighborhoods of Abobo and Yopougon, in Abidjan.
The consultations will last for a year, and culminate in a conference of representatives of all organizations and government representatives. The dialogue is also expected to use the recommendations that will be delivered later this year by the CDVR, and to help government implement an effective policy based on those recommendations.
"The most frequent difficulty countries face in implementing reparations for victims of massive crimes is that after truth commissions make their recommendations, there are no strong organizations to push governments to move from those recommendations to the actual implementation of reparations policies," said Correa. "We are hopeful that these discussions can help communities prepare for that moment."