ISSN 2330-717X

Côte d’Ivoire: Inquiry’s Shortcuts Raise Red Flags

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Côte d’Ivoire’s national commission of inquiry investigating the 2010-2011 post-election violence should extend its mandate by six months to August 2012, Human Rights Watch said. The extension would better ensure an impartial and comprehensive investigation into crimes committed by all sides, Human Rights Watch said.

Although created in July 2011, the commission only began its investigations in mid-January 2012 and is already finalizing its report. It appears unlikely to have adequately either documented the conflict’s serious crimes or identified those responsible on both sides after only a month of investigations, Human Rights Watch said.

In meetings with Human Rights Watch, Ivorian civil society representatives, United Nations officials, and diplomats highlighted serious problems with the commission. They cited its failure to include representation from pro-Gbagbo groups and to consult sufficiently with civil society, and said the commission appears to have rushed its work.

“President Ouattara has repeatedly referred to the national commission as the foundation of the government’s efforts to achieve impartial justice for the horrific crimes committed,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To fulfill its mandate, the commission needs to reach out to everyone who suffered and witnessed abuses, regardless of which side might have been responsible. The government should ensure that the commission has adequate time and independence to conduct its work.”

Although the original decree allows for a six-month extension, Ouattara recently said the commission’s report would be finished by late February or early March.

Ouattara established the commission by decree on July 20 to conduct non-judicial investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law between October 31, 2010, and May 15, 2011. On August 10, Ouattara named Judge Matto Loma Cissé to lead the body. The commission was created after a UN-established international commission of inquiry and international human rights groups found that both sides had committed war crimes and likely crimes against humanity as former president Laurent Gbagbo tried to hold on to power after losing the election to Ouattara.

To date, allof the at least 120 people charged by military and civilian prosecutors with post-election crimes are from the Gbagbo camp.

When questioned about the one-sided justice that has so far marked Côte d’Ivoire, Ouattara has cited the national commission of inquiry as evidence of his commitment to impartiality and promised to ensure that the people the commission’s report finds criminally responsible are brought to justice. Cissé has said that in terms of justice, “it’s the commission that controls everything. It considers the events to be examined by the ICC, those that are or will be examined by the Ivorian justice system…. In fact, [the commission] opens recourse to justice for people who feel wronged.”

The primacy given to the commission makes it essential for it to do its job thoroughly and impartially, Human Rights Watch said.

The commission has 17 members, most appointed by ministries and parliamentary groups – all under the control of Ouattara’s political coalition. High-level UN officials in Côte d’Ivoire and Ivorian civil society representatives universally told Human Rights Watch that the body is perceived as political and not independent.

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