UN envoy calls on Ivory Coast to release probe

October 11, 2012 - 2:34 PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — A senior United Nations human rights envoy is calling on Ivory Coast to release the full version of a national probe into last year's post-election violence.

Doudou Diene, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in the West African nation, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that publication of the report completed earlier this year by the National Commission of Inquiry was "a condition of reconciliation."

Ivory Coast headed to the brink of civil war after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in the November 2010 presidential runoff vote to now-President Alassane Ouattara. The resulting violence, which ended in May 2011, claimed at least 3,000 lives, according to the U.N.

Despite evidence that supporters of both men committed grave crimes during the six-month conflict, only Gbagbo supporters have been charged, sparking allegations of victor's justice.

Gbagbo was transferred late last year to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he awaits trial on charges of crimes against humanity, and in Ivory Coast, more than 100 Gbagbo loyalists have been detained, accused of post-election crimes.

Human rights groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch have accused Ouattara's administration of biased justice. In response to that criticism, government officials had said they were waiting on the report from the National Commission of Inquiry before launching further judicial proceedings.

The report was handed over to Ouattara in August, but a summary version that was made public contained little new information and no names of suspected perpetrators.

In the interview Thursday, Diene, who is wrapping up a 19-day mission focused on impunity for gross human rights violations, said the commission's work would be of little consequence if its complete findings weren't made public.

"For that report to have an impact, it has to be publicized. It has to be part of the national debate of reconciliation, of truth and reconciliation," he said. "The Ivorian population has to know what happened, and to know it from a commission established by the state."

Justice Ministry officials were not available for comment Thursday. But in an interview when the report was released, Human Rights Minister Gnenema Coulibaly expressed reservations about making the full version of the report public, citing concerns about witness protection.

"It will not be totally made public," he said at the time. "We must take into account the security of the people that intervened as witnesses. It won't be a good thing for these persons to be exposed like this."

Matt Wells, West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Thursday that the protection of witnesses who testified before the commission was "paramount," but added that this could be "achieved through the specific redaction of names and identifying information."

"It does not require a public report devoid of all detail about particular events, many of which still divide Ivorians," Wells said. "The Independent Expert is absolutely right that the release of a more comprehensive report would contribute significantly toward victims' right to truth and justice."

Ivory Coast's military tribunal launched the first case stemming from the post-election violence last week, trying five men — including Gen. Bruno Dogbo Ble, the feared former head of Gbagbo's Republican Guard — with the kidnapping and murder of a colonel at the height of the violence in March 2011. Cases brought by the civilian prosecutor have yet to begin.

Diene criticized the slow pace of that process, calling for speedy trials of the post-election violence suspects, which include Gbagbo's wife and son and former high-level officials.

"The delay to prosecute them, to judge them, is not normal," Diene said.