Côte d’Ivoire Votes: What is At Stake One Year Later

This post was originally published on UN Dispatch on December 12, 2011.

One year after the presidential election that caused the country to descend into chaos, Côte d’Ivoire held its first parliamentary election since 2000 yesterday, Sunday December 11. Media reports concur on a few points: voter turn-out was low and the election was generally peaceful, in spite of the boycott by pro-Gbagbo supporters.

The low turnout on Sunday can perhaps be explained in part because of the raw memories of the 2010 vote, and in part because of a generally apathetic view towards parliamentary elections, according to the National Electoral Commission Chair, Youssouf Bakayoko. BBC correspondent John James suggests that a combination of these elements, as well as the fact that the parliamentary assembly has limited powers, can explain the low level of participation. Because of the boycott by the pro-Gbagbo opposition party, most of the 1,000+ candidates hail from the governing party coalition, leaving little room for genuine choice in the ballot box.

Since Alassane Ouattara came to power last spring, he declared that legislative elections would be held in December – with or without Gbagbo’s opposition party – and, indeed, he has kept his word. As with the recent presidential election in Liberia, the lack of opposition participation weakens the democratic nature of the vote, as well as the mandate of those elected. A boycott in a parliamentary election, however, is likely less damaging for Ouattara. The fact that these elections were held, as originally planned, plays in his favor.

While the parliamentary elections have been hailed by Ouattara and the UN as a “step toward reconciliation”, it remains to be seen how Gbagbo supporters will react to the official announcement of the results on December 18th. As suggested by reports from Al Jazeera, Gbagbo supporters still have major grievances that remain unaddressed. The boycott itself, both by Gbagbo’s party and by his supporters who did not cast their ballot, suggests that much still needs to be done to ensure that tensions between different factions are not rekindled.

As Laurent Gbagbo’s trial in The Hague unfolds under the auspices of the International Criminal Court, it will be important to observe the repercussions in Côte d’Ivoire. Furthermore, the legitimacy and democratic nature of Ouattara’s government will continue to be tested in 2012. The parliamentary election will very likely hand Ouattara a good amount of legislative power, with a probable majority. How Ouattara will wield this power, and whether opposition parties, news media and individuals will be given the freedom and political space they need to operate and share their views, remains to be seen.

Côte d’Ivoire: Le couple Gbagbo inculpé de “crimes économiques”

This post was originally published on UN Dispatch. C’est le premier billet en français que l’éditeur m’a commandité, donc c’est un essai. Amis francophones, j’aimerai beaucoup savoir ce que vous en pensez.

C’est un premier pas pour la justice en Côte d’Ivoire: Laurent et Simone Gbagbo – assignés à résidence dans le nord du pays depuis leur capture dramatique et médiatisée du 11 avril dernier – ont été inculpés hier par le procureur de la République d’Abidjan. L’inculpation porte sur les “crimes économiques” commis par l’ancien président et sa femme. Le procureur a annoncé le jeudi 18 août lors d’une conférence de presse que les chefs d’inculpation contre Mr. Gbagbo concernaient notamment “vol aggravé, atteinte à l’économie nationale, détournement de deniers publics, pillage.

Continue reading “Côte d’Ivoire: Le couple Gbagbo inculpé de “crimes économiques””

One in eight

From the NYT Lens blog, “Showcase: from birth, death“:

Standing in the only operating room in the only medical hospital in all of Guinea-Bissau, Marco Vernaschi watched a nurse take an unsterile needle out of her pocket and, without anesthetic, suture a woman’s vagina after a difficult childbirth. The woman screamed. Mr. Vernaschi took a photograph. Moments later, she was required to walk out of the filthy room and go home.

The slideshow is not recommended for the faint hearted.

Amnesty International released a report today, calling the alarming rates of maternal and child mortality in Sierra Leone a “human rights emergency”, as one in eight women risk dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

According to USAID:

“Both maternal and child mortality rates in West Africa are among the highest in the world where outdated clinical, social, and cultural norms create obstacles to quality maternity services. It is estimated that for every woman who dies as a result of childbirth, at least thirty others are severely incapacitated from fistulae, chronic pelvic pain, and infertility. Poor sanitation and nutrition, along with inefficient health service management, put young children at risk of easily preventable illnesses.”

Gordon Brown is slated to announce millions of dollars of new funding to provide “free healthcare for millions more women and children in the developing world.” I wonder if this promise will go to rest in the great graveyard of broken promises. “Throwing money (with many strings attached) at the problem” has been the rich country M.O., requiring governments – like Sierra Leone’s – to spend inordinate amounts of time and resources proving to donors they can manage aid transparently. It takes months, years, for countries to turn around their public sectors and make their public health delivery systems functional.

Meanwhile, one in eight women in Sierra Leone faces the risk of death for becoming a mother – so how do we solve the “emergency” part of this equation?

One possibility could be training midwives and other pregnancy and child birth attendants in areas where access to clinics and health centers is limited. Many NGOs and agencies have the capacity to deploy such programs in a matter of weeks — pending funding. Africare was implemeting such a program last year in Liberia. I am cautiously hopeful that a renewed commitment to solve issues affecting women will create the political space necessary for emergency interventions to complement longer-term, more systemic efforts at improving the state of maternal and child health in West Africa.

Speaking of Justice…

Here is an interesting essay by Owen Fiss, a law professor at Yale. I tend to be an advocate of the International Criminal Court, particularly because it (theoretically) signals the end of impunity for perpetrators of atrocities. I find his basic argument, that the internationalization of prosecution is unnecessary because nations usually have the capacity and ability to deal with these issues through their own justice system, to be quite potent:

The crimes may have a global dimension—human rights, after all, are universal—yet national tribunals are capable of punishing persons for human rights violations under either ordinary criminal law or the same norms used by international tribunals[…]
Justice is also a political obligation, for it defines the foundational commitments of a given regime. The willingness of a regime to punish human rights abuses reveals—to its own citizens and to all the world—its true character.

I do believe that, in general, it is important to let States take responsibility. This is true in terms of post-conflict reconstruction, as it is true in terms of developing certain sectors of public services, such as health and education, where the intervention of foreigners can be detrimental to long term sustainability. Thierry Vircoulon has a great paper on this topic.

However, I’m not entirely convinced by the argument – if States chose not to prosecute these types of crimes (for mostly political reasons), or if the outcome is influenced by political considerations, then the whole process becomes a farce. As Fiss notes, the ICC only has African cases on its docket – even though plenty of crimes against humanity have been committed in other parts of the world, and not necessarily only in the context of civil wars… The ICC’s inability -thus far- to prosecute Western criminals of war (and they exist!) leads to the type of argument Fiss is making. This is precisely the same line of thinking that American detractors of the ICC use – that the US is able to prosecute and handle these cases within their own national jurisdiction, and that the ICC basically encroaches upon their sovereignty.

I would only agree with Fiss if it were the case that, left to their own devices, nation States would prosecute these crimes. He cites the case of Argentina,

In 1985, for example, leaders of the junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 were convicted in Argentine courts under domestic criminal statutes for their roles in authorizing extrajudicial killings, torture, kidnapping, and other crimes.

But there are so many counter-examples for this – Iraq comes to mind. The circus that was Saddam Hussein’s trial and his brutal execution were an enormous shame – this could have been the opportunity for the ICC to show its worth. Also, the current debacle with the Cambodia trials for the Khmer Rouge also demonstrates how political considerations disturb these crucial legal proceedings.

Until the ICC becomes truly global in its reach – meaning that it doesn’t only prosecute African war criminals – it will continue to be criticized (and, I suppose, rightly so). But that is entirely dependent on the willingness of States to at least complement their own prosecution of these crimes with a parallel international mechanism (like Rwanda did with the gacaca, for instance).

Back in Budu

Been back in the Buduburam settlement for a little over a week now, and it seems clear that we arrived just as tensions were easing between the different parties. While the overt crisis seems to be under control now, there are still many, many unresolved issues at a number of different levels. The refugee community receives only limited, fragmented information concerning their future and the decisions made on their behalf, which leads to the elaboration of many rumors and theories that only contribute to increasing anxiety and uncertainty.

The UNHCR is essentially nowhere to be seen, found or heard – at least, not in the field. Voluntary repatriation has been reopened for registered refugees (it had been closed in August 2007), but to all the unregistered refugees living in Buduburam, going “home” seems like an almost unsurmountable hurdle… For those who can be repatriated, they are all very worried about leaving with only 20kg of belongings and $100 – imagine if you had to rebuild your life (again) with only this, and in extremely difficult conditions (Liberia, while it is in the process of post-conflict reconstruction, still faces enormous challenges)

I’m going to the court hearing of the remaining 22 women (including 6 children aged between 4 and 11) who are in custody of Immigration Services on Monday. Since internet access is – at best – frustrating in Buduburam, I will probably update then….