Côte d'Ivoire’s Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR) recently concluded its two-year mandate with a report detailing rights violations and the causes of past conflicts, but observers lambasted the panel for failing to help heal divisions and said that some of its findings were already well known.
Established in September 2011, the CDVR was tasked with investigating past human rights violations. However, the scope was not clearly defined. In November last year, it handed President Alassane Ouattara its report documenting abuses and the causes of the decade-long crisis that followed the 1999 coup and a 2002 army mutiny.
“We have paved the way for the efforts that should guarantee that conflict does not recur in future,” Franck Ekra, an adviser to CDVR head Charles Konan Banny, told IRIN. “But it’s clear the work is not finished.”
The commission has also helped initiate dialogue between political parties, said Ekra. Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans party and former president Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivoirian Popular Front party have had bitter relations since the 2010-2011 election conflict, in which at least 3,000 people died.
The panel also outlined cases of violence and human rights violations and consulted some 60,000 people, the majority of whom said they preferred that the panel focus its investigation on crises from 1990 to 2011 and not just the latest post-election conflict, Ekra said.
However, investigations on alleged crimes and public hearings for victims have yet to be carried out, and the president has not yet indicated whether the commission’s mandate will be renewed. Analysts advocated for a fresh term and a revision of the commission’s structure to cater more for the victims of conflict.
According to Rodrigue Koné, a sociologist and programme officer at Freedom House, a rights watchdog, the political dialogue initiated by the commission has not brought about any concrete results. He said it should not have spent so much time on the structural causes of the conflict.
“The main causes of the crisis have been diagnosed and have been well-known by everyone for a long time,” Koné said.
Issues of nationality and land conflicts during the country’s economic slowdown in the 1990s are usually cited by analysts as the main causes of the crisis, which divided the West African nation in half for almost 10 years. After the 2002 army mutiny, rebels seized the country’s northern region while Gbagbo’s government controlled the south.
“The commission was supposed to focus on seeking the truth, conducting hearings and producing a report… What it did in two years was supposed to be done in the first six months of the life of a commission,” said Mohamed Suma, head of the International Centre for Transitional Justice office in Côte d’Ivoire.
Koné said, “The CDVR should have focused on the essential; seeking the truth on the facts that occurred during the crisis and justice and reparations for the victims. But the victims have been forgotten. They’ve had no voice in the process so far.”
“The commission never received any victims. Not a single office has been opened to hear them,” an international observer and a specialist in justice issues told IRIN, on condition of anonymity. “It failed in not being able to engage the people.”
The commission said its budget of US$15 million was insufficient to implement its work on the ground.
“This is the key issue. We didn’t have enough financial means and the budget allocation was not flexible,” Ekra said.
The international observer claimed the budget was not used efficiently. “They had the budget. How many trips have the commission’s officials made overseas? The money was little, but they could have used it more efficiently.”
Banny, CDVR’s chief, was a former prime minister during Gbagbo’s presidency and was Ouattara’s advisor in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections. It has been said that he has presidential ambitions and that he wields substantial sway over the truth commission.
“The head of the commission shouldn’t have been someone with political ambitions,” said Christophe Kouamé, head of the Ivoirian Civil Society Convention.
“The commission suffers from a serious dysfunction. Everything is centralized around Banny, who has been trying to build his political clout… through the institution,” said Freedom House’s Koné. “Banny has used the commission for his own political ambition.”
Other observers pointed out that the commission was set up without the wide consultation or involvement of civil society and victims’ groups and that is worked without collaborating with civil society organizations, but CDVR’s Ekra rejected this claim.
“President Ouattara set up the CDVR right after the crisis to show his good faith to the international community,” said an Abidjan businessman who gave his name only as Charles. “The government hasn’t put in place the conditions for reconciliation.”
Despite Ouattara’s and the government’s pledge of support for fair and impartial justice, only Gbagbo loyalists have been charged by Ivoirian courts so far. Nonetheless, the release in August last year of 14 pro-Gbagbo top officials, including his son, Michel, was seen by many observers as a necessary step towards reconciliation.
Since the South African truth commission was established at the end of apartheid, other African countries emerging from conflict, including Kenya and Sierra Leone, have set up such panels, but their accomplishments have come into question.
The role of Côte d'Ivoire’s reconciliation commission has aggravated tensions between the Ouattara and Gbagbo camps. “The opposition still doesn’t recognize the government in power while the ruling party is not using the reconciliation process to rebuild unity in the country,” said Koné. “Côte d'Ivoire’s political situation is still very complex. It shows the crisis is not over.”
Côte d'Ivoire’s also lacks a charismatic national figure who commands the respect of rival politicians and who can help foster national reconciliation, said Kouamé
“Nelson Mandela’s main legacy is how to live together. Politicians in Côte d'Ivoire didn’t get it. The ruling party, as did the former one, thinks it can build this country alone,” he said, noting that the CDVR’s mandate should be renewed on the condition that it is given financial autonomy and gets a politically neutral leader.