Ivory Coast - slow justice

2013-01-30 18:57
Simone, the wife of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan after her arrest in April 2011. (File, AFP)

Simone, the wife of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan after her arrest in April 2011. (File, AFP)

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Abidjan - Ivory Coast's government has displayed a "lack of impartiality" by not pursuing specific perpetrators of 2010-11 postelection violence including those who killed hundreds of men in the country's western town of Duekoue, according to a new United Nations expert report that also criticized the indefinite and inhumane detention of those suspects that are being held.

The report by independent human rights expert Doudou Diene deplored "the slowness of the proceedings before the civil courts" and found fault with indictments leveled against top suspects. It also documented the use of torture by security forces responding to a series of attacks on military installations last year.

Months of conflict following Ivory Coast's 2010 presidential elections saw at least 3 000 people killed, according to UN estimates. The violence erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite losing the November 2010 runoff vote to current President Alassane Ouattara.

A national commission of inquiry last year attributed 727 deaths to the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, the army Ouattara created by decree in March 2011, one month before Gbagbo was arrested. But Diene's report said that while 55 Gbagbo loyalists have been charged for violent crimes, no Ouattara loyalists have been the subject of any "serious procedure."

In the western town of Duekoue, Ouattara forces have been accused of killing hundreds of men belonging to the Guere ethnic group "which largely supported Gbagbo" during a single March 2011 massacre in the Carrefour neighbourhood. Diene said that he was told a judge had launched a probe into crimes committed in Duekoue during the crisis but was unable to visit the town because of security reasons.

Ouattara visited Duekoue during a trip to the west last April. Others were also killed in the area, although there are contending figures from various groups that range from 400 to 1 000, according to past Associated Press reports.

Ivory Coast's military tribunal handed down the first verdict related to the postelection conflict last October. Diene said he was told civilian trials would begin last November, but they still have not started.

Ivorian authorities have dismissed allegations that they are not pursuing perpetrators who fought for Ouattara, and the president has publicly vowed that all perpetrators of crimes committed during the conflict will eventually be brought to justice.

Civilian prosecutor Simplice Koffi was removed from his post for unspecified reasons earlier this month, and his replacement was not available for comment this week.

Charged with genocide

The report, based on a mission conducted in September and October, was finalized earlier this month and is scheduled to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March. A copy was obtained by the AP last week.

The report also deplored the "indefinite detention" and bad conditions of those being held for postelection violence. Diene said Gbagbo loyalists in the northern town of Korhogo were "crammed into small cells in a very advanced state of disrepair and unsanitary conditions."

Former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who is being held in the northwest town of Odienne, "showed signs of physical weakness" and complained that she was unable to be treated by the doctors of her choice, he said. The International Criminal Court unsealed an arrest warrant for Simone Gbagbo in November on crimes against humanity charges.

The government has not yet said whether it plans to send her to The Hague, where her husband has been held for more than a year.

Simone Gbagbo is one of nearly 50 people charged with genocide by the Ivorian courts, according to the report. The others include seven high-level Gbagbo allies and 41 Ivorians extradited by Liberia following a June attack near the border between the two countries that killed seven UN peacekeepers.

The report expressed concern about Ivory Coast's use of an "incomplete" definition of genocide that does not comport with international standards, saying this could discredit the Ivorian judiciary.

The report also brought up more recent allegations of human rights abuses, notably the response to a wave of attacks on security installations throughout the country that began last August.

The local UN mission has documented at least 23 different attacks since August throughout the country, mostly targeting military, gendarmerie and police posts. Some 60 people have died, according to the UN, including civilian women and children.

Gbagbo's political party has accused the government of using the attacks as a pretext to crack down on the former president's allies.

The report said at least 382 people were arrested in connection with the attacks, some of whom were subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Two died as a result of torture, it said. The government has denied the use of torture, as have military camp commanders.

Read more on:    alassane ouattara  |  laurent gbagbo  |  ivory coast  |  west africa

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