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Mercenaries / Cote d’Ivoire: Justice for victims paramount for lasting stability and reconciliation

ABIDJAN / GENEVA (10 October 2014) – The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries today urged the Government of Cote d’Ivoire to ensure prompt and effective justice for victims of human rights violations that occurred during the armed conflicts in 2002 and 2010.

“Justice cannot be achieved without effective accountability and redress mechanisms for victims”, said Patricia Arias, who currently heads the group of experts, at the end of an official visit to the country*. “Eliminating the culture of impunity is also seen by many to be the most significant move towards genuine and lasting reconciliation.”

The experts, who were in the country from 7 to 10 October to examine the impacts of mercenarism on human rights, heard numerous reports regarding mercenaries from neighbouring countries who fought on both sides of the conflict. Along with its armed counterparts, these mercenaries reportedly ravaged villages and carried out atrocious human rights violations including torture and summary executions.

Although the conflicts have ended, and the issue of mercenarism appears to have been dealt with by the strengthening of the State’s security institutions, the Working Group has noted a prevailing lack of confidence in the justice system in dealing with the violations that were instigated by both sides of the conflict.

“Perpetrators of human rights violations, including mercenaries and other armed groups, must be prosecuted and brought to justice regardless of their political affiliations,” noted Anton Katz, from the Group’s delegation. “Added to this is the importance of protecting witnesses and victims and the need to safeguard them against reprisals for seeking judicial redress for the violations they suffered.”

“Cote d’Ivoire has moved forward considerably from conflicts that could have seriously paralysed the country,” Ms. Arias noted. “We commend the government for its efforts to advance reconciliation and restore the rule of law in this post conflict period.”

These positive initiatives include the ongoing programme on the disarmament and the reintegration of former combatants, the establishment of a national enquiry body and the truth and reconciliation commission as well as the special unit tasked with the investigation of the events that took place during the crises.

Looking ahead to the need to ensure against mercenaries further destabilising the country, the Working Group emphasised the importance of continuing and strengthening the cooperation between Cote d’Ivoire and its neighbouring countries particularly under important frameworks such as the Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS).

As part of their mandate, the experts also looked into the activities of private military and security companies (PMSCs) in the country including the role some of these companies played in the past conflicts. Though improved regulation has been put in place to oversee PMSCs, serious concerns were raised regarding the need to strengthen areas such as licensing in order to address the large number of illegal or unlicensed companies operating in the country.

In its preliminary recommendations to the Government, the Working Group emphasised the importance of the systematic collection and analysis of data to facilitate the access of justice and reparation for victims of the past conflicts, and to adopt legislation urgently, which protects witnesses and victims who wish to seek justice and reparation.

The human rights experts also urged the Ivorian Government to strengthen its cooperation with civil society and involve them in the investigation and reconciliation process.

A complete report on the Working Group’s visit including specific recommendations to the Government will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement (In French): http://www.ohchr.org/FR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15159&LangID=F

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination was established in 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Patricia Arias (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Chile), Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa), Mr. Gabor Rona (United States/Hungary), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Poland) and Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Mercenaries/WGMercenaries/Pages/WGMercenariesIndex.aspx

Read the Working Group’s draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Mercenaries/WGMercenaries/Pages/WGMercenariesIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Cote d’Ivoire: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CIIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Natacha Foucard (nfoucard@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 9458/ during the visit +41797520481 ) or Jolene Tautakitaki jtautakitaki@ohchr.org / +41 22 9179363 / during the visit +41797520483) or write to mercenaries@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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