Beyond the UN: The Pursuit of Justice Must Continue in Côte d’Ivoire


By Mohamed Suma, Head of Office, Côte d’Ivoire

Over five years after the 2010-2011 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire, which resulted in the loss of more than 3,000 lives, United Nations Operations in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) will conclude in June 2017. While the UNOCI has contributed immensely to the stabilization of the country, the work of securing a stable peace is not done: efforts to obtain justice should not end with the UN’s peacekeeping operations.

Instead, the UN and other international partners must step up their support of government and civil society in the continuing fight to ensure accountability and redress. The support of civil society, particularly for victims, is critical to monitor national mechanisms and advocate for victim rights.

To ensure that the government, activists and international organizations jointly pursue a victim-centered approach to justice after the UNOCI leaves, ICTJ is hosting the Abidjan Conference on Transitional Justice on Thursday, October 27th. This high-level conference, organized in collaboration with MSCSIV, UNOCI, and UNDP, will bring together relevant sectors in the Ivorian government, UN, the diplomatic community, and civil society to review and identify the future roles and responsibilities of the parties moving forward.

Conference participants will reflect on the remaining challenges Côte d'Ivoire is facing in transitional justice, review the gains that have been made, and develop strategic guidelines for intervention by the Ivorian government. It is expected that by the end of the policy discussion, participants will have had a better idea of what is still needed in regards to transitional justice and be able to chart a way forward for all of Côte d’Ivoire.

As the conference approaches, much work remains: the government has yet to release the final report of the Commission for Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation (CDVR), even though the truth-telling body completed its work over two years ago. Moreover, there has been little clarification around the types of violations committed during the conflict, or around its causes, consequences, and culprits. Those responsible for violations have not yet acknowledged responsibility. Additionally, the lack of information makes it impossible to assess the contributions made by that truth seeking effort, or to define lessons to be learned from the period and events examined.

Regarding criminal justice, the courts’ slow pace and lack of transparency have left justice open to conjecture among citizens and exploitation by party politics. Victims have yet to see justice for the serious human right violations perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Since the crisis ended, only one person, the former First Lady Simone Gbagbo, has been tried by the Assize Court in Abidjan for serious human rights violations related to the post-electoral crisis.

While the National Commission of Inquiry (CNE) report stated that the conflict was fueled by violations on both sides, the government has been criticized for implementing “victor’s justice” by holding opposition supporters in detention, most of whom have never been tried. The defendants in the cases currently before the International Criminal Court only include representatives of the previous administration, and no Ouattara supporters have been tried for human right violations.

Regarding reparations, the Commission Nationale pour la Réconciliation et l’Indemnisation des Victimes (CONARIV) was created in order to establish a single consolidated list of victims and develop a reparations policy. It submitted its final report in March 2016 but the findings have not yet been published and the majority of victims still do not know if their applications for reparations have been approved.

The new Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Victims’ Compensation (MSCSIV), created in 2016, has been working to implement the policy developed by CONARIV. The Ministry has made considerable progress, but there is a risk that the process will be anchored on the concept of solidarity instead of acknowledgement and responsibility, the underlying principles for any meaningful reparation processes in a post-conflict context. The state has always professed its sympathy and solidarity with victims but has fallen short of acknowledging state responsibility of the violations that the victims suffered. Côte d’Ivoire is a country where the state did not only fail to protect but its security forces were alleged to have participated in the violation of human rights. Consequently, reparations must come with acknowledgment of wrong done.

Since ICTJ commenced operations in Côte d’Ivoire in 2012, we have provided capacity-building and ongoing technical support to the national transitional justice institutions, including our recent work with MSCSIV in developing an operational support plan for the implementation of reparations.

In addition to working with government institutions, ICTJ has significantly engaged with civil society groups, particularly victims in far-flung regions of the country and young people. Our work with victims has enabled them to organize themselves across the country to monitor the implementation of the various transitional justice institutions and processes. As a result, victims’ groups recently produced their first monitoring report on the implementation of the reparations program. Our youth partners have also produced audio reports exploring their experiences during the Ivorian conflict and the consequences of the conflict.

This engagement with both civil society and the government has allowed ICTJ to advance a victim-centered approach on issues like reparations and accountability. This approach must continue beyond the UNOCI’s presence in the country, but it depends on sustained collaboration between the government, civil society and the diplomatic community. Next week’s conference will be an important step in developing a shared road map for this new stage of transitional justice in Côte d’Ivoire.

PHOTO: Women participate in a small group session during victim consultations in Bangolo, in western Côte d’Ivoire. The country must pursue a victim-centered approach to justice after the UNOCI leaves. (Cristián Correa, ICTJ)