Ali Ouatarra, Founder of the Ivorian Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Coordinator of the African Francophone Coalitions for the ICC and Focal Point of the African Network for International Criminal Justice reports that delayed investigations in Côte d’Ivoire have encouraged further violence and put an end to all hope of victims of post-election violence to know the truth and obtain justice.
Crimes Committed During the Political Crisis
Côte d’Ivoire, 122nd state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, has experienced a period of turmoil and murderous madness.
The country went through a serious politico-military crisis from September 2002 to May 2011, which had an impact on all the foundations of Ivorian society. Many serious crimes have been committed by both warring camps.
The post-electoral crisis of 2010, following the disputed results of the presidential election between outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.
The ICC’s Initial One-Sided Investigation
On October 3, 2011, the ICC opened an investigation in Côte d’Ivoire. However, although the Prosecutor requested authorization to investigate crimes committed by both parties, the investigation initially focused only on crimes committed by the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost the election.
Three ICC arrest warrants were issued against Laurent Gbagbo, Charles Blé Goudé and Simone Ehivet Gbagbo.
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé were handed over to the ICC and tried on four alleged counts of crimes against humanity committed during the post-election violence. On 15 January 2019, the two men were acquitted by the ICC – a decision that was confirmed by the ICC Appeals Chamber on 31 March 2021 following an appeal by the Prosecutor.
The Cote d’Ivoire government refused to surrender Simone Ehviet Gbabgo to the ICC. In February 2016, President Ouattara publicly stated that he “would not send any more Ivorian nationals to the ICC.” Instead, she was prosecuted nationally for crimes against humanity and acquitted by the Abidjan Assize Court in May 2017 following a much-criticized trial. On 19 July 2021, the ICC vacated the arrest warrant against Simone Gbagbo due to lack of evidence following the acquittals of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.
Delays in conducting a ‘two-sided’ investigation
It must be noted that the ICC’s only trial concerned crimes allegedly committed by the pro-Gbagbo camp. According to the Office of the Prosecutor’s Strategic Plan for 2012-2015, a second investigation into crimes allegedly committed by pro-Ouattara supporters could not initially be carried out properly due to the workload of the Office of the Prosecutor on other matters.
This investigation did not start until late 2015, after an advocacy push by NGOs. The ICC has since acknowledged that this delay led “to substantial reputational damage for the Court, being perceived – incorrectly – as one-sided in its investigations.”
Five years later, this investigation into the crimes committed by the pro-Ouattara camp is still ongoing.
Consequences of Delay
In the context of the quest for justice in a post-conflict Côte d’Ivoire, the trial of Charles Blé Goudé and Laurent Gbagbo and the opening of the investigation into the supporters of President Ouattara’s camp raised a lot of hope for the victims from both camps.
Unfortunately, we note that national investigations carried out so far have only concerned supporters of Laurent Gbagbo. Supporters of President Ouattara have not been brought to justice, despite being suspected of committing serious human rights violations. Many have been promoted and are in no way concerned by Ivorian justice.
In August 2018, President Ouatarra adopted an ordinance granting an amnesty to a number of those accused or convicted of crimes relating to the 2010-2011 crisis or to subsequent attacks against the state. Among those amnestied, some are suspected of having committed human rights violations or having been in command when human rights violations were perpetrated. This situation promotes a culture of impunity and two-tier justice.
The victims (including survivors and family members of victims of atrocities – people who have lost everything – and who continue to suffer as a result of the trauma they experienced) number in the thousands. They are of all political stripes, all regions, all religions and all nationalities living on Ivorian soil.
The ICC was created for the victims of the most serious crimes, including crimes against humanity. The Court affirms that they are at the centre of its work. But, it has not yet benefited the victims in Côte d’Ivoire. The delays in investigations in Côte d’Ivoire cause distress for survivors. These people, who are in a precarious situation, continue to suffer.
The acquittal of Blé Goudé and Laurent Gbagbo has disappointed the hopes of the victims of this case. They now feel abandoned by the ICC. Many people no longer believe in it. They no longer believe in international justice, that is, in the ICC.
In addition, the ongoing delays in the second investigation into President Ouattara’s supporters have started to exacerbate tensions, encourage recidivism by perpetrators and revenge by victims.
In the absence of accountability for past political violence, murders and massacres were also committed with apparent impunity during the 2020 presidential elections.
The Need for Urgent Action by the ICC
The fight against impunity is floundering in Côte d’Ivoire. Many Ivorians no longer believe in t the Ivorian justice system or the ICC. The ICC is no longer seen as an impartial, fair and independent institution.
The ICC must therefore take strong measures in favor of victims to restore their confidence. Here, the victims themselves are also victims of the ICC. They feel doubly victimized: on the one hand of their torturers but also of the ICC. Investigations must proceed and be concluded quickly so that the victims can live, survive and obtain justice. It is the credibility of the ICC that is at stake.
Ultimately, the credibility of international justice and that of the rule of law in Côte d’Ivoire will depend on the ICC’s ability to meet and manage victims’ expectations in terms of justice. Therefore, investments in justice today mean savings tomorrow, not only in monetary terms but also in terms of human lives.
The ICC should avoid suspending or deprioritizing investigations for lack of resources or for any other reason. It must equip itself with all the necessary means to carry out all the investigations in progress. Likewise, Côte d’Ivoire must also, in accordance with the principle of complementarity, strive to carry out impartial and credible investigations on Ivorian soil.