A long road ahead for justice in Côte d’Ivoire
A long road ahead for justice in Côte d’Ivoire IRIN
IRIN on Friday, June 7, 2013
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Wary of a backlash, Côte d’Ivoire’s government has hesitated to charge its own supporters of crimes committed during the 2010-2011 poll violence, something that has raised doubts about its commitment to impartial justice, say analysts.

The government’s National Commission of Inquiry into the conflict has accused both the Côte d’Ivoire Republican Forces (FRCI - now part of the army) and fighters loyal to deposed president Laurent Gbagbo, of crimes. It said FRCI was responsible for 727 deaths while Gbagbo’s forces killed 1,452 people.

In June 2011, two months after taking power, President Alassane Ouattara set up the Special Inquiry Unit - a special court - to try violence suspects. Prosecutors have charged more than 150 Gbagbo supporters but just a handful from FRCI.

Analysts argue that this lack of even-handedness is due to Ouattara’s weak grip on the army which is largely made up of fighters who backed him during the poll chaos. Many of the fighters are also loyal to Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader and now the National Assembly president.

Christophe Kouamé, head of the Ivoirian Civil Society Convention, said the slow pace of justice was because “social divisions are so deep that the president is certainly wary of rekindling conflict.”

“The one-sided approach to accountability is likely due in part to the president’s still tenuous hold over the entire military,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in an April report.

“Pursuing justice may prove to be deeply unpopular, including among segments of the population who believe that the forces loyal to President Ouattara who committed serious crimes were justified in doing so,” it added.

Only recently did the government go after its loyalists. In April, the trial of 33 FRCI troops - charged with crimes against the population, including premeditated murder, voluntary and involuntary homicide and theft - opened before a military court in the commercial capital Abidjan. Two soldiers were handed prison sentences on 2 May.

Other moves against FRCI members seem likely following the April exhumation of bodies from 57 mass graves across Abidjan. Thirty-six of those graves, containing the bodies of people killed during the post-election violence, are in the city’s Yopougon District which was a Gbagbo stronghold.

FRCI has also been accused of atrocities in the west. In March, a judge tasked with investigating a July 2012 attack on a camp for the displaced in the west of the country visited the scene to identify mass graves. According to the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH), there are 13 mass graves in 12 different sites containing the bodies of people who were summarily executed during the attack.

HRW West Africa researcher Matt Wells said the trial of the soldiers was “an important step forward in Côte d’Ivoire’s fight against impunity. But the Ivoirian authorities need to also pursue the more sensitive cases involving FRCI for which victims have seen no justice, particularly the grave crimes committed during the post-election crisis.”

                           
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