Friday, April 5, 2013

Ivory Coast not ensuring balanced justice: report

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) ? Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara's government is not arresting his supporters suspected of crimes during the country's 2010-11 postelection conflict, increasing the danger of future violence, Human Rights Watch charged Thursday.

The West African country's judiciary does not have a strategy for investigating grave crimes in which 3,000 people were killed over five months, the rights watchdog said in a 73-page report.

The violence in Ivory Coast erupted after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in the November 2010 presidential runoff vote against Ouattara. Fighters on both sides committed atrocities, including the extrajudicial killings of hundreds, a national commission of inquiry reported last August.

But the Ivory Coast commission was not a judicial body, meaning it did not focus on identifying individual suspects, Human Rights Watch noted. A "Special Investigative Cell" formed to undertake criminal investigations appears to be understaffed, and its authority has been called into question as it has attempted to probe crimes committed outside Abidjan, the report said.

More than 150 supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo have been charged in connection with the postelection violence, according to the report. But no Ouattara loyalists have been charged, fueling allegations that the president is engaging in "victor's justice."

Ouattara's repeated promises to hold all perpetrators of grave crimes to account "are starting to ring hollow" nearly two years after Gbagbo was arrested from a bunker in Abidjan following French and U.N. military intervention, said the rights group's U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion.

"Our fear is that if impunity continues, the cycle of violence in Ivory Coast will not really be broken," he said. "And sadly we will not be surprised if in a few years from now we see another cycle of violence, with the same perpetrators in position to commit the same types of crimes."

Ouattara defends his record. He said significant progress had been made in promoting equal justice, speaking on the BBC's "HARDtalk" program that first aired March 26. Asked specifically about a massacre in the western town of Duekoue where his fighters have been accused of killing hundreds of Gbagbo supporters, he said, "We have a report on what happened in Duekoue and all the people involved in the massacre in Duekoue have been taken to court."

Bolopion said there was no evidence to indicate that Ouattara's claim was truthful. "If the government has information that cases have been brought against people fighting for pro-Ouattara forces, we'll welcome that and we'll be happy to see the evidence that it's happening," he said. "But so far we have no reason to believe it's the case."


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