Côte d’Ivoire: Gbagbo’s ICC
Transfer Advances Justice
Promptly Investigate Ouattara
Camp’s Crimes as Well
(Nairobi, November 29, 2011)
– The transfer of former President Laurent Gbagbo to the International
Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for his alleged role in international
crimes during Côte d’Ivoire’s devastating post-election violence is a
major step toward ensuring justice, Human Rights Watch said today. Human
Rights Watch called on the ICC prosecutor to move swiftly on
investigations for grave crimes committed by forces allied with the
current president, Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo’s refusal to step down
when the Independent Electoral Commission and international observers
proclaimed Ouattara the winner of the November 28, 2010 presidential
run-off set off six months of violence. At least 3,000 people were
killed and more than 150 women raped during the conflict period, often
in targeted acts by forces on both sides along political, ethnic, and
“This is a big day for the
victims of Côte d’Ivoire’s horrific post-election violence,” said
Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
“That Laurent Gbagbo now has to answer to the court sends a strong
message to Ivorian political and military leaders that no one should be
above the law.”
According to news reports,
Ivorian judicial authorities informed Gbagbo of the ICC arrest warrant
on November 29, 2011. Gbagbo is the first former head of state taken
into custody by the ICC. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the late
Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have likewise been subject to ICC arrest
warrants. Al-Bashir has not come into ICC custody, nor did Gaddafi.
“The ICC is playing its part
to show that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape
justice when implicated in grave crimes,” Keppler said.
Efforts by both the ICC and
the Ivorian government to ensure accountability for the post-election
crimes are important
the rule of law to Côte d’Ivoire,
Human Rights Watch said. However, investigations with a view to
prosecutions are needed without delay for individuals implicated in
grave crimes who fought in the forces allied with Ouattara.
Since Gbagbo’s arrest by pro-Ouattara forces on April 11, Ivorian
civilian and military prosecutors have charged more than 120 people
linked to the Gbagbo camp with post-election crimes. No one from the
pro-Ouattara forces has been charged with post-election crimes. This
creates a perception of victor’s justice and risks stoking further
communal tensions, Human Rights Watch said.
“While the Gbagbo camp fueled
the violence through its refusal to relinquish power and its incitement,
forces on both sides have been repeatedly implicated in grave crimes,”
Keppler said. “The many victims of abuse meted out by forces loyal to
President Ouattara also deserve to see justice done.”
Human Rights Watch conducted six field missions to Côte d’Ivoire during
the crisis, documenting the evolution of the post-election violence from
its outbreak in November 2010 through the conclusion of fighting in May
A report released by Human Rights Watch on October 5 detailed serious
international crimes committed by both sides and implicated 13
military and civilian leaders as among those responsible.
Gbagbo was specifically named for his role as commander-in-chief of
armed forces that committed war crimes and likely crimes against
humanity. Despite clear evidence of grave crimes committed by his
military and militia supporters, Gbagbo neither denounced nor took steps
to prevent or investigate the crimes.
In May, Ouattara asked the ICC to open an investigation into the
post-election violence, indicating that Ivorian courts would not be able
to prosecute those at the highest levels for the worst crimes committed.
The ICC judges authorized the prosecutor to open an investigation on
October 3, citing evidence of war crimes and likely crimes against
humanity by both sides’ armed forces and allied militia groups. Gbagbo’s
arrest and transfer on November 29 is the first for the ICC’s
investigation in Côte d’Ivoire. Credible information suggests that
several Gbagbo allies implicated in serious crimes may likewise be
subject to imminent ICC arrest warrants.
The ICC prosecutor should also pursue cases involving crimes
during the 2002-2003 armed conflict and its aftermath, Human Rights
Watch said. The 2010 violence
capped a decade of
human rights violations and
impunity in Côte d’Ivoire. The failure to address the worst earlier
abuses risks undermining important efforts to enshrine the rule of law,
Human Rights Watch said.
Ouattara has promised repeatedly that anyone implicated in crimes
committed during the post-election period will be brought to justice.
But in terms of charges brought at the national level, the reality
remains in stark contrast.
“Especially given the lack of domestic accountability efforts for crimes
committed by forces allied with President Ouattara, the ICC prosecutor
should move promptly to investigate their grave crimes and encourage the
Ivorian government to proceed with domestic prosecutions against all
responsible serious crimes, whatever side they were on,” Keppler said.
“Justice for crimes by both sides is key in breaking the cycles of
violence that have plagued Côte d’Ivoire during the past decade.”
Beginning in December 2010, after Gbagbo refused to accept the election
results, elite security force units closely linked to Gbagbo abducted
neighborhood political leaders from Ouattara’s coalition, dragging them
away from restaurants or out of their homes into waiting vehicles.
Family members later found the victims’ bodies in morgues, riddled with
Pro-Gbagbo militia manning informal checkpoints throughout Abidjan
murdered scores of real or perceived Ouattara supporters, beating them
to death with bricks, executing them by gunshot at point-blank range, or
burning them alive. Women active in mobilizing voters – or who merely
wore pro-Ouattara t-shirts – were targeted and often gang raped by armed
forces and militia groups under Gbagbo’s control.
As international pressure increased on Gbagbo to step down, the violence
became more appalling, Human Rights Watch said. The Gbagbo
government-controlled state television station, Radiodiffusion
Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), incited violence against pro-Ouattara
groups and exhorted followers to set up roadblocks and “denounce
foreigners.” This marked, in many ways, the culmination of a decade of
Gbagbo’s manipulation of ethnicity and citizenship, in which northern
Ivorians were treated as second-class citizens and West African
immigrants as unwelcome interlopers.
Hundreds of people from both groups were killed in Abidjan and the far
west between February and April, sometimes solely on the basis of their
name or dress. Mosques and Muslim religious leaders were likewise
Abuses by pro-Ouattara forces
did not reach a comparable scale until they began their military
offensive in March 2011 to take over the country. In village after
village in the far west, particularly between Toulepleu and Guiglo,
members of the Republican Forces allied with Ouattara killed civilians
from pro-Gbagbo ethnic groups, including elderly people who were unable
to flee; raped women; and burned villages to the ground. In Duékoué, the
Republican Forces and allied militias massacred several hundred people,
pulling unarmed men they alleged to be pro-Gbagbo militia out of their
homes and executing them.
Later, during the military campaign to take over and consolidate control
of Abidjan, the Republican Forces again executed scores of men from
ethnic groups aligned to Gbagbo – at times in detention sites – and
By the conflict’s end, both sides’ armed forces had committed war crimes
and likely crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.
An international commission of inquiry presented a report to the Human
Rights Council in mid-June that likewise found war crimes and likely
crimes against humanity to have been committed by both pro-Gbagbo and
pro-Ouattara forces. The
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the
United Nations Operations in
Côte d’Ivoire, the
International Federation of
Human Rights, and
International have all released similar findings.
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Côte d’Ivoire, please visit: