An International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes during Ivory Coast’s post-election conflict will focus on all parties to it and protect nobody, said the deputy prosecutor.
The ICC’s deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was addressing journalists in the main city Abidjan, where she is opening an investigation into crimes committed during a violent power struggle between President Alassane Ouattara and former president Laurent Gbagbo over disputed a Nov. 28 election.
She earlier signed an accord to launch the inquiry with Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou Kouadio, who also pledged that no one who committed war crimes would escape justice. She then met with top Ivorian officials, including president Ouattara, Reuters reports.
“One of the most important things we have discussed — the president and the ICC delegation — is that we are going to focus on crimes of all sides,” Bensouda said.
Gbagbo’s supporters complain that not a single member of Ouattara’s camp has been arrested for alleged crimes, despite evidence of abuses by the former rebel troops.
“The president has assured us that there is no plan to protect anybody, and that anybody who is responsible for these most serious crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction is not going to be protected,” Bensouda said. “This is very important for the credibility of the court.”
She earlier said the agreement between the ICC and the Ivorian government would “help to put an end to impunity”.
Kouadio said the investigation would be limited to crimes alleged to have occurred since Dec. 4 last year, when the post-election standoff was ignited, not all the way back to the 2002 rebellion that split the country in two.
This was because of several amnesty laws that had been agreed during the peace process leading up to the election.
But he added: “If by any chance someone wants to re-open (a separate inquiry) on 2002, Ivorian justice is ready to respond to all points of view.”
Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara following the poll, triggering months of violence and economic havoc in the world’s No. 1 cocoa-producing country before Gbagbo was captured in April in Abidjan with help from French forces.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said last week at least 3,000 people were killed, 520 people were arbitrarily detained in the violence and there were more than 100 reported cases of rape, with unreported cases potentially much higher.
“The Ivorian government will cooperate fully so that light can be cast on all crimes committed,” Kouadio said.
Gbagbo is currently being detained in northern Ivory Coast awaiting trial by Ivorian courts — for war crimes, but also for alleged corruption, embezzlement and other alleged economic crimes, as is his wife, Simone, and several close aides.
Fifteen of those aides being detained in Abidjan, including former prime minister Gilbert Ake, finance minister Desire Dallo and foreign affairs minister Alcide Djedje, were charged with crimes including destabilising the state, theft of public goods and embezzlement, on Sunday.
Bensouda said the ICC probe would not affect domestic judicial procedures like these but would merely compliment them.