Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a six-month extension in the mandate of Côte d’Ivoire’s national commission of inquiry investigating the 2010-2011 post-election violence.
In a statement obtained by PANA here Friday, the New York-based group said the extension, which will take the inquiry to Aug. 2012, would better ensure an impartial and comprehensive investigation into crimes committed by all sides.
Set up in July 2011, the commission only began its investigations in mid-January 2012 and is already finalizing its report.
In view of this, HRW said the commission appears unlikely to have adequately either documented the conflict’s serious crimes or identified those responsible on both sides, after only a month of investigations.
According to HRW, Ivorian civil society representatives, United Nations officials, and diplomats have highlighted serious problems with the commission, including its failure to include representation from pro-Gbagbo groups and to consult sufficiently with civil society. They also said the commission appears to have rushed its work.
“President Ouattara has repeatedly referred to the national commission as the foundation of the government’s efforts to achieve impartial justice for the horrific crimes committed,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at HRW.
“To fulfill its mandate, the commission needs to reach out to everyone who suffered and witnessed abuses, regardless of which side might have been responsible. The government should ensure that the commission has adequate time and independence to conduct its work,” Dufka said.
Although the original decree allows for a six-month extension, Ouattara recently said the commission’s report would be finished by late February or early March.
President Ouattara established the commission by decree on 20 July to conduct non-judicial investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law between 31 October, 2010, and 15 May, 2011. On 10 August, Ouattara named Judge Matto Loma Cissé to lead the body.
The commission was created after a UN-established international commission of inquiry and international human rights groups found that both sides had committed war crimes and likely crimes against humanity as former president Laurent Gbagbo tried to hold on to power after losing the election to Ouattara.
To date, all of the at least 120 people charged by military and civilian prosecutors with post-election crimes are from the Gbagbo camp.
When questioned about the one-sided justice that has so far marked Côte d’Ivoire, Ouattara has cited the national commission of inquiry as evidence of his commitment to impartiality and promised to ensure that the people the commission’s report finds criminally responsible are brought to justice.
On his part, Cissé has said that in terms of justice, “it’s the commission that controls everything. It considers the events to be examined by the ICC, those that are or will be examined by the Ivorian justice system…. In fact, [the commission] opens recourse to justice for people who feel wronged.”
The primacy given to the commission makes it essential for it to do its job thoroughly and impartially, HRW said.
The commission has 17 members, most appointed by ministries and parliamentary groups – all under the control of Ouattara’s political coalition.
High-level UN officials in Côte d’Ivoire and Ivorian civil society representatives universally told HRW that the body is perceived as political and not independent.
Ivorian government officials and civil society representatives noted that the pro-Gbagbo Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI) had been offered several seats on the commission, but had declined.
This decision is part of the FPI’s more general boycott of the government, including the December legislative elections. It has made participation contingent upon the release of Gbagbo and other high-level FPI officials from detention.
Gbagbo was transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on 29 November, under charges of crimes against humanity. Others being detained have been credibly implicated by Human Rights Watch, the UN, and other groups in serious crimes.
The result, UN officials and Ivorian activists say, is that the vast majority of victims who suffered abuses by the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces do not feel secure speaking to the commission.
This raises serious concerns of a one-sided report and demands greater efforts by the commission to solicit the testimony from victims of abuses committed by pro-Ouattara forces and to protect victims and witnesses from reprisals, HRW said.
-0- PANA SEG 24Feb2012