Building bridges: Field office crucial to ICC’s work in Côte d’Ivoire

Ali Ouattara, head of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC. © CICC

Ali Ouattara, head of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC. © CICC

The opening of a field office in Côte d’Ivoire less than three years ago has given the ICC a voice in the country and allowed it to directly interact with local communities, writes Ali Ouattara, head of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC.

Call for international assistance following decade of violence

Following the September 2002 troop uprising against the government, Côte d’Ivoire went through a serious crisis which reached its climax with the post-election violence of November 2010.

For nearly a decade, the parties to the conflict committed serious human rights violations against civilians throughout the country, which amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To ensure that those atrocities would not go unpunished, successive governments accepted ICC jurisdiction and eventually ratified the Rome Statute in February 2013, becoming a full member of the Court.

Arrest warrants spark criticism of perceived ‘victors’ justice’

After carrying out an investigation in the country, the Court in 2011 issued three arrest warrants for the former president Laurent Gbagbo, his wife Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, and Charles Blé Goudé—the former leader of the “Young Patriots” youth group. The warrants for Simone Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were kept under seal.

Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Côte d’Ivoire, appears before ICC judges. © AP

Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Côte d’Ivoire, appears before ICC judges. © AP

Côte d’Ivoire has cooperated with the Court by surrendering both Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé to The Hague, but with respect to Simone Gbagbo it is a different story. The Court is still waiting for the former first lady to be transferred into its custody. Ivorian authorities consider themselves competent to try her before a national tribunal.

The ICC has been criticized at both the international and national level for issuing arrest warrants solely against pro-Gbagbo suspects.

For many, this process represents victors’ justice. Other observers are eager to see which Ouattara supporters will be brought before the ICC, as the Court clearly stated that all parties to the conflict will face justice.

Victims of the post-election violence still hope that the Court will deliver justice in order for them to rebuild their lives. Most of them are willing to participate in ICC proceedings.

Outreach building bridges

To bolster the Court’s efforts and increase knowledge of its work among Ivorians, significant outreach efforts have been made by the ICC field office in collaboration with local civil society organizations such as the Côte d’Ivoire Coalition for the ICC .

The office maintains regular contact with Ivorian authorities, in addition to interactions with foreign diplomats, civil society organizations, victims and their families.

Workshops and training sessions have been organized, thanks to which the general public and specific groups—such as the media—have become more familiar with the ICC’s operations and have been able to keep abreast of the various cases before the Court.

Yet many challenges remain on the ground.

The ICC still needs to adopt a proactive approach towards the population by increasing its communications and outreach activities in order to fight the misinformation that tarnishes its image.

The Court must also extend its training activities towards victims and improve its efficiency in delivering justice.

Such activities require sufficient financial and material resources. In order to win this struggle in Côte d’Ivoire, it is necessary that states parties and donors support the ICC field office in the country.

The credibility of the ICC and rule of law in Côte d’Ivoire rely on the Court’s ability to address and manage victims’ expectations. By investing in justice today, enormous economic and human benefits can be obtained tomorrow.

Ali Ouattara is the president of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC, former president of Amnesty International Côte d’Ivoire, and a consultant and expert on international justice.

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