ABIDJAN (Reuters) - President Alassane Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court to probe allegations of serious human rights crimes during Ivory Coast violent post-election power struggle.
The request may shine a light on abuses committed by both sides during the conflict, which killed thousands and displaced more than a million, and was sparked by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power.
In a letter to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo dated May 3, Ouattara said “it appears that the Ivorian justice system, at the moment, is not best placed to consider the most serious crimes committed over the recent months, and that any attempts to bring to justice those who are most responsible would risk running into all kinds of difficulties”.
He said he was asking the ICC to look into reported abuses from November 28, the date of the disputed election.
A Justice Ministry source told Reuters that it would continue to pursue separate investigations of Gbagbo for other crimes, leaving the most serious allegations of human rights violations for the ICC.
“The fact that President Ouattara is asking the International Criminal Court to probe these crimes does not block the national justice system from doing its own investigations,” he said, on condition of anonymity.
“There will be investigations in Ivory Coast on, for example, economic crimes.”
An investigation by the ICC is likely to focus on reports of violations by Gbagbo’s side as he struggled to retain power, but could also open Ouattara’s camp — including former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, the current prime minister — to scrutiny.
Human rights groups have accused Gbagbo’s fighters of using heavy weapons against civilians, but have also accused Ouattara’s forces of killing, raping and looting during their southward sweep from their northern stronghold to the coast.
Gbagbo was captured on April 11 after heavy fighting in the main city Abidjan, which included U.N. and French strikes on Gbagbo’s heavy weapons stockpiles.
Human rights investigators have confirmed reports of several mass graves, and security remains fragile in the West, where thousands of people remain refugees fearing ethnically-driven violence.
Ivory Coast’s election, delayed for half a decade, was meant to heal the wounds of its 2002-03 civil war, but instead tore them back open.