From council chamber to the people: Côte d’Ivoire’s search for justice and reconciliation

Roger Kougbo’s memories of the violence that took place during the disputed elections in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010 were still vivid.

He remembered the streets, near his neighbourhood in the Yopougon area in Abidjan, the county’s capital. At one point they were filled with people, fleeing from the fighting or caught up in the fighting. And then, there was emptiness. No one dared come out of their homes for weeks, fearful of being caught or beaten or worse, he said, gesturing on his balcony toward the ground below. But all that remaining indoors created a new set of problems, shortages.

“During the crisis, it was difficult to find food because there was nothing, nothing,” said Kougbo, who heads the local victim’s NGO Vision Nouvelle (New Vision). “There was nothing in the markets or shops. We lived on air.”

In 2010 Côte d’Ivoire was gripped with electoral violence, when forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo clashed with those loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who had been declared the winner. The Human Rights Council dispatched a commission of inquiry, which documented and reported various human rights abuses committed on both sides.

This work, along with the work of the other UN human rights mechanisms, including the appointment of an independent expert has helped the country to achieve some stability, said Ali Ouattra, who heads the Ivorian Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

“Ivorians were staring stonily at each other,” he said. “There was a certain animosity and lack of trust among them. The United Nations, through these different structures, helped rebuild trust between Ivorians, cohesion among them, and encouraged reconciliation.”

The country has responded well to the enhanced focus, said the current Independent Expert on Côte d’Ivoire Mohamed Ayat. The country recently held peaceful presidential elections in October 2015 and there has been a lot of progress in the area of reconciliation. But challenges remain.

“There are challenges regarding security and in terms of economic development and human development,” Ayat said. “But I also think that Côte d’Ivoire is a strong country which is able to meet these challenges.”

Meeting these challenges has been part of the job of the recently formed National Human Rights Commission of Côte d’Ivoire, said its president Namizata Sangaré. She closely followed the work of the international commission of inquiry, and attended the presentation of its report in Geneva. She said help with capacity building for her group and NGOs has been invaluable. Yet to overcome the necessary challenges facing the country, there needs to be patience.

“Justice can be slow, but we have to trust and closely follow this independent structure,” Sangaré said. “We are paying close attention to the process.”

With nearly 1,300 resolutions and 80 sessions in its decade-long existence, the Human Rights Council has a lot to reflect on during its 10th anniversary celebrations. This film, which includes footage of Côte d'Ivoire and other countries, highlights of the the outside-the-chamber work it has done.

4 November 2016


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