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Paving the way for justice in Côte d’Ivoire 0

National and international truth, reconciliation and justice mechanisms being set up in Côte d’Ivoire must be impartial and independent to have any credibility, say analysts and rights groups.

But most importantly, grassroots reconciliation efforts must guard social cohesion as their central goal. IRIN spoke to analysts to explore justice options.

Post-election violence in late 2010 killed at least 3,000 people, displaced some 500,000, and left hundreds of thousands dependent on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

A preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is under way in Côte d’Ivoire, focusing on allegations of atrocities committed between 2002 and 2005.

A separate ICC investigation, if it goes ahead, would also look into “the most serious crimes” committed since December 2010.

Côte d’Ivoire is not a signatory of the Rome Statute which allows the ICC to have jurisdiction over a country. However, on 28 June 2011 Ivoirian Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou Kouadio signed a cooperation agreement with the court, confirming the government would recognize the final results of any investigations the ICC launches – which could target both sides of the post-election battle. This acceptance of ICC jurisdiction is critical.

The ICC prosecutor has concluded there is a “reasonable basis” to open an investigation.

Opportunities, challenges

“You have to admire the current government’s endeavour to put an end to impunity,” Charles Sanga, editor of pro-government paper Le Patriote, told IRIN. “Impunity had practically become the rule in Côte d’Ivoire… One thousand and one crimes were committed under [Laurent] Gbagbo’s regime, but there was never any trial. Today, within two months of being in power, [President Alassane] Ouattara has invited the ICC, and they have already completed a preliminary investigation [visit].”

The ICC will work only if it remains independent of politics; does not undermine traditional criminal proceedings; if the timing works well with grassroots reconciliation efforts; and if those collecting evidence are well-trained and professional, human rights representatives told IRIN.

Selective justice, and official amnesia are the biggest challenges, said Patrick N’Gouan, who heads the main civil rights group collective in Côte d’Ivoire, Convention for Civil Society.

To be fair the ICC must also take into account crimes committed over the past decade. “Only if there is equality and fairness can we have reconciliation… Whatever the organization in question, an investigation must go back to at least 2002 because the Ivoirian crisis has its roots before 2010.”

The crimes committed in late 2010 were similar to those witnessed before, he said. “Perhaps not on the same scale… but… our expectations haven’t really been fulfilled, either by the public powers or by the international jurisdictions.”

Other challenges include accurately targeting the perpetrators of violence, since the degree of control that Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro had over their troops is unclear.

Indeed, it is still unclear who exactly makes up Ouattara’s Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), as many of his supporters, and opportunists, pass themselves off as force members, residents of the commercial capital Abidjan told IRIN.

Any investigation will need to bear in mind regional dynamics, said N’Gouan. High-level Gbagbo allies implicated in abuses have been variously sighted in Ghana, Senegal and Benin, according to local press reports. Liberian mercenaries are also believed to have been implicated in killings and violence n the west. Gbagbo has denied recruiting such mercenaries, according to independent Ivoirian daily L’Inter.

Truth and reconciliation commission

A Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission is currently being set up headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. The “truth” part of the commission opened on 20 July.

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Source: IRIN

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi