Côte d’Ivoire has embarked on a process of addressing the legacy of internal strife that culminated in the 2010 post-election violence. ICTJ has provided technical assistance to government bodies and civil society groups that are implementing transitional justice measures to reestablish the rule of law, including criminal investigations and the truth commission.
Background: Confronting Ethnic Division, Addressing Impunity
Ethnic tension has simmered in Côte d’Ivoire since it gained independence, and presidential campaigns over the past two decades have brought them to a boil. When Alassane Ouattara was kept off ballots in Côte d’Ivoire’s 2000 election because of his ethnicity, the country erupted in conflict. 350 people were killed before Ouattara’s main rival, Laurent Gbagbo, assumed the presidency.
The violence of 2000 was followed by a civil war in 2002, which split the country in two – a Muslim-held north and a Christian-held south. The civil war ended in 2007, but the ethnic and religious schisms that fueled it remained. They manifested themselves in violence once again in 2010, when Ouattara and Gbagbo ran against each other for president. This time, Ouatarra was declared the winner, but Gbagbo refused to step down, leading to another civil war. Before Ouattara supporters captured the capital of Abidjan and installed him as president, forces on both sides engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual violence. The violence left 3,000 dead.
Côte d’Ivoire established the Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR), which seeks to identify root causes of the conflict, patterns and types of violations, and strategies to fulfill victims’ rights. The CDVR completed its work in December 2014, when it submitted its final report to the government. However, that report has yet to be made public. Meanwhile, President Ouattara has committed to holding perpetrators of crimes during the 2010-2011 violence accountable, but his government has come under criticism for exclusively prosecuting Gbagbo-supporters.
National and International Prosecutions
As the CDVR’s report has just been made public, criminal justice has been a major focus of the transitional process in Côte d’Ivoire. Ouattara established the special investigative Unit (CSI, which later became the CSEI) in 2011 to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the post-election violence. He also invited the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute any crimes in its jurisdiction committed during the post-election violence.
Shortly afterwards, the ICC announced arrest warrants against three individuals from the former government – former President Laurent Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, and the former Minister of Youth Charles Blé Goude – for crimes against humanity. Côte d’Ivoire transferred Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goude to The Hague for trial, but insisted that it was capable of trying Simone Gbagbo and refused to transfer her. The cases against Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goude have been joined and the trial started in January 2016.
Despite the establishment of the CSEI, only one case related to the post-election persists. Simone Gbagbo, the main accused was found guilty along with 78 other suspects in March 2015 of endangering state security. Dozens of others, all Gbagbo supporters, have been arrested but remain detained pending trial.
The CSEI has been accused of being politically-motivated and biased, given the lack of action against any pro-Ouattara forces. In 2015, newspapers reported that the CSEI had filed charges against pro-Ouattara military officials, the court has yet to receive a related case. The ICC has also been accused of bias, given the similar lack of any action against pro-Ouattara individuals.
Seeking Redress for Victims
In addition to criminal justice, Ouattara has promised reparations to victims of human rights violations during the conflict. A number of committees and agencies have been established toward this end, including the National Committee for Reconciliation and Victims’ Compensation (CONARIV) and the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Victims Compensation (MSCSIV).
Since the most recent crisis, Côte d’Ivoire has made remarkable economic progress, and experienced strong gains in security and stability. Around two-thirds of those displaced in 2011 have returned home. Ouattara was re-elected in a peaceful and free election in 2015, and the UN peacekeeping mission has set a final withdrawal date of December 2016.
However, the slow progress in addressing the past creates risks of renewed conflict. Despite the improved security situation, incidents involving groups of armed youth and communal conflict sparking violence demonstrate that there are still tensions below the surface.
ICTJ has worked to include victims from across Côte d’Ivoire in the transitional process, with a particular focus on young people and victims residing outside the capital. It has made sure victims’ voices are heard in shaping reparations policies while providing assistance to prosecution efforts.
Victim Outreach: Côte d’Ivoire faces a challenge in ensuring all victims, including those in remote areas, have an opportunity to shape reparations policy. ICTJ works with national authorities to increase the transparency and inclusivity of reparations programs, from development to implementation. The organization conducted an extensive consultation process that identified 225 grassroots victims’ organizations from Abidjan, Duekoue, Bangolo and Bouake, organizing discussions with their members. The recommendations victims offered in these forums were presented to officials in Abidjan and formed the basis of an August 2016 report.
Youth Engagement: ICTJ provided helped establish and partnered with the youth network Réseau Action Justice et Paix (RAJP) to prepare an audio report on the experience of children and youth during the country’s post-election violence. RAJP and ICTJ later worked together to conduct reparations consultations with 125 children and youth in 5 regions. Thanks to this consultation, RAJP collected and reported on young victims’ needs and expectations around the reparations process. Their final report, written with technical support from ICTJ, was submitted to the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Victims Compensation and other key state actors.
Supporting Accountability: ICTJ has provided technical assistance to the Special Inquiry and Investigative Unit (CSEI) to improve its investigations strategy, development of prioritization criteria, case planning, and mapping, in order to increase its balance and independence. ICTJ also provides technical support to a group of civil society organizations monitoring the domestic trial of Simone Gbagbo - currently ongoing - for genocide, crimes against the civilian population, crimes against prisoners of war, and complicity in crimes against humanity committed during the post-election violence.
In 2016, ICTJ published The Handbook on Complementarity, aimed at helping national authorities and civil society in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere understand the relationship between the ICC and national jurisdictions. ICTJ also published a technical report examining the main legislative and institutional obstacles to an effective prosecution of the postelection violence in the country. The April 2016 report offered recommendations to state branches as well as civil society organizations.
Media Support and Outreach: ICTJ has collaborated with local journalists from four independent media outlets to report on transitional justice topics in order to accurately and constructively inform the Ivorian public about important developments. The organization also worked with RAJP youth leaders to broadcast victims’ testimonies on local airwaves, broadening dialogue around reparations.