ABIDJAN, 25 March 2021 – The trial opened Wednesday in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d’Ivoire, for persons suspected of involvement in the country’s worst post-election massacres ten years ago.
Up to 817 people were summarily executed in one day, according to accounts by members of the Red Cross.
The United Nations has said the death toll for the one-day massacre was 300.
The trial seeks accountability for the former militia leader Amade Oueremi and his accomplices in the 2010-2011 massacre in the western town of Duekoue.
The violence occurred after the 2011 election and, at the time, the United Nations said pro-President Alassane Ouattara forces were behind the massacres.
Ouattara had claimed victory in presidential elections at the time, but then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, stubbornly clung to power, leading to an offensive on Abidjan by rebels close to Ouattara.
Ultimately, Gbagbo was dragged out of the presidential palace bunker, arrested, and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Hundreds of people were arrested and killed as political and communal violence degenerated into ethnic cleansing.
So far, Oueremi is the only defendant in the case.
His militia group has also been accused of 2012 raids and destruction of makeshift tents and huts in which internally displaced persons lived in Nahibly, near Duekoue.
Oueremi was arrested in a forest where he sought shelter after the violence, living on agriculture, and the trafficking of timber products and cocoa beans.
Rights activists have called for accomplices in the atrocity crimes to be brought to justice as well, explaining that Oueremi would be only the scapegoat if those in high places who ordered the crimes do not face the music as well.
The ICC Prosecutor opened Proprio motu investigations into the atrocities after authorization of pre-trial chamber was approved on 3 October 2011.
The ICC is focused on alleged crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that were committed in the context of post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010/2011, but also since 19 September 2002 to the present.
In granting the Prosecutor’s request to open an investigation, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the Prosecutor to investigate “both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces”.
Ouattara won the 2020 presidential election and was sworn-in to serve a third term of office last December.
The ICC has said that the attacks against the civilian population in Cote d’Ivoire were “widespread and systematic”.
According to the ICC, the crimes included, for example, “raids conducted against headquarters of the opposition party, excessive force used in heavily populated areas in order to disperse protesters, and military roadblocks and checkpoints set up at which killings allegedly occurred”.
More than a million people were displaced by the post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire.
The ICC has investigated the existence of “several mass graves in Abidjan, and documentation relating to widespread arbitrary arrested, ‘disappearances’ and incidents of rape”.
The charges considered by the ICC include “crimes against humanity, murder, rape, other inhumane acts, attempted murder, and persecution”.
The ICC investigation was the first opened while a country had accepted the Court’s jurisdiction [under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute] but was not yet a State Party.