ICC finds possible mass graves in Ivory Coast

March 14, 2012 - 3:06 PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Investigators with the International Criminal Court may have found mass graves in a western Ivory Coast town, a court official said Wednesday, where rights groups say fighters loyal to the president killed hundreds of people amid postelection violence last year.

"We have confirmed some locations in which we think ... there are mass graves," said Amady Ba, who said a crime-scene expert and medical-legal photographer came to the West African nation to investigate the area around the town of Duekoue.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the massacre was committed by forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara.

Former strongman Laurent Gbagbo was sent to the international court last year to face charges of murder, rape and other crimes allegedly committed by his supporters after he refused to cede power to Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of a 2010 election. The U.N. says at least 3,000 people died during the months-long power struggle and that atrocities were committed on both sides.

Ba said the process was "scientific," and evidence still needed to be confirmed.

Ba said the court is investigating the "most serious crimes" committed during the past decade of violence in Ivory Coast.

Judges at the Hague-based court expanded an investigation in Ivory Coast in February to cover atrocities dating back to 2002, when an attempted coup by northern rebels ignited a civil war.

He said the investigators had gathered testimony from victims, witnesses, human rights groups and the national commission of inquiry that pointed to grave crimes in Duekoue.

The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast has said that more than 1,000 people were killed in the country's west during the postelection violence, some 500 of those in Duekoue.

Amnesty has said the U.N., which has a base in Duekoue, failed to do more to prevent killings, which it claims were carried out by forces loyal to Ouattara.

In July, The Associated Press reported that Ouattara's forces also murdered up to 47 people on the Cavally River bordering Liberia, most of whom drowned by throwing themselves in the current to escape the killers. Among the dead was a handicapped woman in a wheelchair, who could not run away. She was raped before being killed. None of Ouattara's forces have been charged.

Ba said the international court had "not yet" looked into the massacre on the Cavally River. "We are still in the process of investigating crimes," he said.

(This version CORRECTS that death toll was "up to 47 people.")