This month marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of Ivory Coast’s Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation, signed into law by President Alassane Ouattara and headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. It is also the midway point in the CDTR’s two-year mission. Taking stock, its success thus far has been underwhelming.
Formed a few months after the recent bout of post-election violence, and, according to the 2011 end-of-year Human Right Watch report, with “inadequate consultation with Ivorian civil society, lack of independence from the presidency, an unclear relationship with prosecution efforts, and ill-defined powers,”the commission doesn’t have a clear mandate and, unsurprisingly, has essentially made no progress. Vital decisions are still pending on critical questions such as how far back their investigation should go and whether they would share evidence with national and international prosecutors. Ivorians from both sides are not impressed, and outside observers tend privately to dismiss the commission as ineffective.
The 2010-11 violence, triggered by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after losing the November 2010 vote, lasted for six months and took the lives of more than 3,000 people, displacing hundreds of thousands more. As I write in my Investigative Fund story in the latest issue of World Policy Journal, justice at both the national and international levels has been one-sided, while Ivorian fighters who supported the winning faction — Ouattara’s — continue to commit horrific abuses against the civilian population with impunity. Because of this, the recent announcement (in French) that trials stemming from the violence would begin in the coming weeks, seemed, on its face, to be significant news.
But the details told a different story. At a press conference last week, military prosecutor Ange B. Kessi Kouame disclosed that case files for only two killings were prepared, involving a total of eight suspects. One of those suspects is Bruno Dogbo Ble, the feared former head of Gbagbo’s Republican Guard and one of 13 “key leaders” implicated by Human Rights Watch in grave crimes. But while Ble has been charged with a host of crimes — including the recruitment and training of mercenaries, embezzlement and arbitrary arrests — the case against him scheduled to be heard this month is restricted to the slaying of retired Col. Adama Dosso, who was assassinated in March 2011 in an operation allegedly ordered by Ble. Trying Ble for just this one case, and not other crimes, local activists say, fails to capture the magnitude of the allegations against him.
This is not the first time that a big announcement about the election violence has fizzled out: During my trip to Ivory Coast in April, administration officials, when pressed on the issue of one-sided justice, pointed to the pending release of the final report from a national commission of inquiry, saying it would provide the basis for further investigations.
Human Rights Minister Gnenema Coulibaly said: “The commission… will give its report to the president, and the president will ask the judges to start the prosecutions.”
(More than 100 Gbagbo loyalists have been detained in Ivory Coast for post-election crimes, and the former president himself was sent last year to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, becoming the first former head of state to be taken into custody there. Meanwhile, no Ouattara loyalists have been detained or credibly investigated, despite significant evidence that they, too, committed atrocities.)
But the version of the report made public at a ceremony in August — while acknowledging that pro-Ouattara fighters were responsible for hundreds of killings — contained little information that hadn’t already been documented by journalists and rights workers. According to the conclusion of the report:
Serious crimes were committed by different actors. The question of national identity, the foundation of coexistence and national social cohesion, has been transformed into a weapon of war.
It is widely assumed that a more detailed version exists and has been presented to Ouattara, though it is unclear what this will mean for the justice process.
This tense situation — fuelled by the beginning of the trials and the release of the commission’s report — has been made worse by a renewed bout of violence in the country, on a scale not seen since the conflict ended in May 2011. Last month, unidentified gunmen struck seven military positions, including a large-scale base in the country’s commercial capital of Abidjan, killing at least 12 soldiers and making off with an untold number of weapons, among them rocket propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles. Amid concerns about when the attackers might strike next, the government’s response has exacerbated lingering political divisions: government and military officials have blamed the attacks on Gbagbo loyalists at home and abroad. Meanwhile, members of Gbagbo’s political party deny any involvement and have accused the government of launching a meritless crackdown, including the arrests of high-ranking party members. Kouame, the military prosecutor,announced in late August that 54 civilians and 19 soldiers had been arrested in connection with the attacks. Their trial date has not been set.
In a statement released earlier this month, René Hokou Legré, the president of the Ivorian Human Rights League, warned that the “radicalization of positions between the camps of the former and the current president, and the increased presence of the [national army] in public create an atmosphere of psychosis and panic among civilians, evoking memories of the dark hours of the post-election crisis.”
Legré is not alone in his concern about the political climate in the country. Earlier this month, I sat down with Sery Bailly, a professor of African literature at Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny University and a former high-ranking official in Gbagbo’s party who accepted a position on the truth and reconciliation commission. Though Bailly said he believed the commission would be able to complete its report before its mandate runs out next year, he also wondered whether the country was ready for reconciliation. “You have to stop fighting first, and then reconciliation becomes relevant,” he said.
In an Ivory Coast where the violence is not yet over, and where the truth and reconciliation commission is troubled by serious questions about its efficacy, the CDTR’s first birthday risks becoming another empty milestone.