Arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and torture by armed groups and government forces since the end of Côte d’Ivoire’s bloody 2010-2011 post-election unrest are stifling national reconciliation and causing fear and mistrust among civilians.
A local human rights group estimates that around 200 supporters of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo have been detained, mostly in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo, who is being held by the International Criminal Court, refused to concede defeat to current president Alassane Ouattara in the 2010 polls, sparking clashes that killed some 3,000 people.
In the western and central towns of Daloa and Issia, several civilians have been arrested and mistreated by armed traditional hunters known as Dozos, who are carrying out unauthorized security duties, while Republican Forces troops who backed Ouattara have also committed abuses in the western region. Many of the troops do not respect the military chain of command, the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO) said.
“There is still some sort of confusion in the country. There is no clear division of responsibility at the top government level, so much so that we do not know who is arresting who, and the abuses continue,” said René Hokou Legré, the head of LIDHO.
“Many people face charges. Things are not being done the right way. Today there are people who have been arrested and detained and do not even have visiting rights - it’s like something is being kept secret,” he said.
A January 2012 report by the UN Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, noted that most of the violations resulted “less from the state’s complicity than from its failure to prevent them, especially because of the difficulty of reforming the security sector and re-establishing the government’s authority over the country’s entire territory.”
In the capital, Abidjan, the district of the Yopougon, one of the neighbourhoods worst hit by post-election violence, Cyrille Adiko*, 33, recounted how he and more than a dozen other residents were arrested in April and later presented on national television as mercenaries plotting a coup d’état.
“For ten days we did not see daylight. Armed men tied our hands and feet. We only had water and biscuits at times,” said Adiko. “When we arrived, already there were around ten people held in another cell under tough conditions.”
On the same day, Bertin Djédjé*, also from Yopougon, was arrested for the third time. “On the first two occasions I was lucky because I had my work ID, but this time around my name was associated with the former president’s region. The soldiers put us through the worst humiliation. I don’t think there are chances that the country will reconcile under these conditions,” he said.
In July 2011, three months after Gbagbo was arrested and President Ouattara took power, Côte d’Ivoire set up the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR), but despite a recovery from the worst of the violence, the panel is struggling to unite a country torn apart by successive crises and deep political and ethnic divisions.
Ouattara Karim, the CDVR’s youth advisor, said the arrest of supporters of the former president was complicating the reconciliation, especially those associated with Charles Blé Goudé, a militant pro-Gbagbo youth leader accused by rights groups of playing a key a role in the unrest and who is under an international warrant issued by Abidjan.
“I find it difficult to understand that while we are working to build confidence between one another, it seems like there is a bulldozer flattening all our efforts. I’m not happy with what is happening. We should stop these things [arrests] and begin a true reconciliation of Ivorians,” Karim told reporters in June.
“The government, through the prime minister, has begun talks with the opposition,” said government spokesman Bruno Koné. “These are signs of openness in the national reconciliation process. There are difficulties, but the process is under way. The CDVR set up by President Ouattara is working.”
Gilbert Gonnin, a history professor at Abidjan’s l’Université de Cocody, also criticized the arrests, which he termed as a form of victor’s justice. “Some effort has been put in, but reconciliation efforts are being undermined by the arrests and abductions,” Gonnin told IRIN.
“We can’t achieve peace when part of the population feels that they are victims of the victor’s justice,” he said. “There needs to be fair justice to bring confidence - without that the reconciliation will just be empty talk.”