Between the months of January and April of this year, Amnesty International researchers spent more than two months in Côte d’Ivoire investigating and documenting the human rights abuses that have occurred since the November run-off election for the Presidency.
The result of their work is a report, released today, which outlines grave crimes committed by parties on both sides of the political contest, and continued violence associated with communal conflict in the west.
After what was widely recognized as a free and fair election in November, Alassane Ouattara was pronounced the new president, defeating incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step aside. Between December and April, military troops and militias loyal to each politician fought intensely for control of the country, leading to Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11 and Ouattara’s ascension to the presidency.
Throughout the conflict hundreds of people were killed and assaulted based on ethnicity or their real or perceived political allegiances. Many women and adolescents were subjected to sexual violence including rape, which was used as a weapon of war in some regions. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting, fleeing to other areas within Côte d’Ivoire or to neighboring countries. Other crimes carried out by militias and security forces include extra-judicial and unlawful killings, excessive use of force, enforced disappearances, the shelling of civilian residences and markets, attacks on mosques, and arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment. Many of these crimes are still being committed.
Parties on both sides are responsible for crimes under international humanitarian and human rights law, and they must be held accountable. In good news, President Ouattara recently asked the Prosecutor of the ICC to launch an independent and impartial investigation of the crimes committed since the election. He also reaffirmed his intentions to ensure that Côte d’Ivoire becomes a State Party to the Rome Statute as soon as possible. These are important first steps towards a brighter future for Côte d’Ivoire, for which Ouattara should be commended.
However, in the coming weeks and months President Ouattara will face many challenges in rebuilding and unifying his country, and further tests of his commitment to democracy, justice, and accountability. President Ouattara needs to put an immediate end to the human rights abuses currently being committed and guarantee the protection of all sections of the population. Futhermore, Ouattara will need to enforce full cooperation with the ICC investigations and ensure that all guilty parties are held accountable.