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Côte d’Ivoire: 2 Years in, Uneven Progress
Human Rights Watch
21 May 2013
Côte d’Ivoire’s government has made little progress in addressing root causes of the country’s decade of politico-military violence in the two years since President Alassane Ouattara’s inauguration on May 21, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. These problems threaten the country’s long-term stability despite a strong economic rebound, Human Rights Watch said.

In the coming year, the Ivorian government should prioritize addressing these issues, including the lack of accountability among the security forces, the need for disarmament and security sector reform, and land conflict, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also build on its efforts to ensure that economic growth leads to improved protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.

“The Ouattara government may have made meaningful progress in rebuilding the economy and infrastructure after years of devastation by conflict and mismanagement,” said Matt Wells, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the lack of impartial justice as well as the failure to address other issues that underpin a decade of abuse could undermine longer-term prospects for stability and development.”

Internationally recognized results proclaimed Ouattara the winner of the November 2010 election, but Laurent Gbagbo, his opponent, refused to step down as president. That caused a five-month crisis during which at least 3,000 people were killed and 150 women raped, with forces on both sides often carrying out attacks along political, ethnic, and religious lines. Gbagbo was arrested on April 11, 2011, and ultimately transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he remains in custody while judges decide if there is enough evidence to try him for four counts of crimes against humanity.

Despite the destruction during the war and more recent security threats, the Ouattara government has made notable progress in a number of areas. (…)

But serious challenges remain, Human Rights Watch said. (…)

President Ouattara has repeatedly promised that all those responsible on both sides for serious international crimes during the post-election crisis will be brought to account, regardless of political affiliation. Prosecutors have charged more than 150 people from the Gbagbo camp with such crimes, including at least 55 with violent crimes like genocide, crimes against the civilian population, and murder. But no member of the pro-Ouattara forces has been charged for crimes committed during the crisis. (…)

“People suspected of serious international crimes shouldn’t get a free pass just because they are linked to the government in power,” Wells said. (…)

The Ivorian government should also cooperate fully with the ICC. On November 22, 2012, the ICC unsealed a February 2012 arrest warrant against Simone Gbagbo, the former president’s wife, who remains in Ivorian custody facing domestic charges of genocide, among other crimes.

Ivorian authorities have yet to respond formally to the ICC arrest warrant. (…)

“Over a year after Ivorian authorities were probably informed of the warrant, they’ve had ample time to decide where they think Simone Gbagbo should be tried,” Wells said. “Côte d’Ivoire’s failure to comply with its legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC in this case is all the more startling given the government’s positive decision to become an ICC state party.”

Since President Ouattara’s inauguration, Côte d’Ivoire has faced regular security threats, marked by a series of attacks on military installations and civilians carried out by militants still loyal to Gbagbo. (…)

However, in response to the security threats, members of the military have often engaged in serious human rights abuses, including widespread illegal detentions, inhuman treatment, torture, and, in at least few cases, extrajudicial killings. (…) The Ivorian government’s inadequate efforts to address ongoing rights abuses makes it more likely that some soldiers will continue resorting to such abuses during moments of tension, Human Rights Watch said.

The impunity for the security forces has also manifested itself in their involvement in criminal activity that often targets civilians. The UN Group of Experts found in its April report that, in consolidating their power in response to the security threats, military commanders had created a “military-economic network” throughout the country marked by parallel taxation, extortion, and smuggling worth millions of dollars. Since 2002, many former rebel commanders who now occupy key military positions have overseen similarly lucrative taxation and smuggling in northern Côte d’Ivoire, as documented byHuman Rights Watch and the UN. (...)

“The proliferation of small arms, continued weaknesses within the judiciary, politico-ethnic division, and land conflict have proven an explosive cocktail in Côte d’Ivoire for over a decade, with civilians suffering the most,” Wells said. “There is a pressing need to tackle these issues if the Ouattara government is to fulfill its promise of making the country a rights-respecting pillar of the region.” (…)

Read Human Rights Watch’s full article. 

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