Global Policy Forum

Opposition Wants International Court

Integrated Regional Information Networks
April 8, 2004

An alliance of Cote d'Ivoire's rebel movement and main opposition parties has urged the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to investigate killings and human rights violations committed in the country since Laurent Gbagbo was elected president nearly four years ago. The "G7" group, which brings together the rebel movement occupying the north of Cote d'Ivoire and the four main opposition parties in parliament, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had written to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanding the "creation of an international penal court for Cote d'Ivoire" to punish those responsible for serious violation of human rights in the West African country since October 2000.

It said the tribunal's remit should include the investigation of the security forces heavy handed repression of a banned opposition demonstration on 25 March which led to street clashes and house-to- house manhunts during which dozens of people were killed. The government says 37 people died in the disturbances, during which police and soldiers fired live ammunition at civilian protestors, but opposition parties say up to 500 people perished.

"We've dropped off the letter at the Monitoring Committee (of Cote d'Ivoire's January 2003 peace agreement,", Alphonse Djedje-Mady, the head of the G7's steering committee, told IRIN on Thursday.

Djedje-Mady's Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI) pulled out of the country's broad-based government of national reconciliation in early March in protest at what it called high-handed behaviour by President Gbagbo. It was soon followed by the "New Forces" rebel movement which has occupied the north of Cote d'Ivoire since civil war broke out in September 2002, and the three other opposition parties in the G7 group. They quit their cabinet seats immediately after the security forces' bloody repression of the opposition demonstration two weeks ago.

This mass walk-out has left independent Prime Minister Seydou Diarra with only 15 of his 41 ministers still at their posts and has brought Cote d'Ivoire's fragile and slow-moving peace process to a standstill. The United Nations, which has just begun to deploy a 6,240-strong peacekeeping force in Cote d'Ivoire, is already setting up an international inquiry into the events of 25 March to investigate who was responsible for the killings and determine how many people actually died.

Two days after Gbagbo was sworn as president in October 2000, a mass grave was discovered in Abidjan's low-income suburb of Yopougon containing 57 bodies. These people were allegedly killed in the political violence that accompanied Gbagbo's election. Talks of mass graves has again suffered in the wake of last month's blood letting.

The Ivorian Human Rights Movement (MIDH) and Amnesty International, have both accused the security forces of burying people who were killed in mass graves. However, Internal Security Minister Martin Bleou refuted these accusations after visiting the two alleged burial sites in Abidjan.

On Thursday, the Abidjan newspaper '24 Heures' reported that a mass grave was believed to exist in Gagnoa, a large town in Gbagbo's home area of south central Cote d'Ivoire. It said a team of experts had been deployed to investigate the reports. There have been repeated clashes in the Gagnoa area between villagers of Gbagbo's Bete tribe and immigrants from other parts of Cote d'Ivoire and from neighbouring West African countries. These have resulted in several deaths.

Amnesty International, in a report titled "Disproportionate and blind repression of a banned rally", has called on Gbagbo to release all the political detainees, facilitate the work of international investigations and to ratify the treaty that established the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. At the same time, Amnesty demanded that the Ivorian rebels facilitate an investigation into the massacre of dozens of gendarmes in the central city of Bouake in October 2002 shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. Bouake is now the rebel headquarters.

Meanwhile efforts by prime minister Diarra to revive a political dialogue between Gbagbo and the opposition appear to be getting nowhere. An opposition source told IRIN on Thursday that direct talks between the president and the G7 group were still not on the agenda.

As the world commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide on 1994, the Dakar-based human rights group RADDHO warned in a statement that "all the ingredients have come together to for a repeat of Rwanda in West Africa, notably in Cote d'Ivoire." Last week RADDHO's secretary general, Alioune Tine, told IRIN that impunity, since October 2000, was motivating repeated violations of human rights.

Deeming that the Ivorian justice system was too weak to stop the growing tide of violence RADDHO, last week, called for the creation of an international tribunal for Cote d'Ivoire. "……if strong measures are not taken as soon as possible for the organization of presidential election in 2005, other crimes, executions and serious violations of human rights will repeat themselves", the organization said in a statement. The Abidjan daily Le Patriote, the mouthpiece of the opposition Rally for the Republic (RDR) party, carried a headline which read "Cote d'Ivoire 2004- a genocide in the making." The newspaper published a comparative table which shows similarities between Rwanda and Cote d'Ivoire.

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