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Cote d’Ivoire begins exhuming mass graves

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Ivorian officials have began exhuming dozens of mass graves dating back to the country's 2011 post-election violence, as a new report accused President Alassane Ouattara of failing to bring his supporters to justice for crimes they allegedly committed during the conflict.

Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly presided over the exhumations, observing a moment of silence at the site before digging started at the first grave on the grounds of a mosque in Abidjan's Yopougon district.

The grave contained the bodies of four men aged 17 to 35 who were killed at the height of the violence in April 2011 while defending the mosque against militant supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

More than 3,000 people died over a period of five months after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in the November 2010 election.

Addressing religious leaders as well as relatives of the men who died at the mosque, Coulibaly said "the prevailing security situation" during the conflict made proper funerals impossible for many families, meaning bodies were hastily buried in public places throughout the country, including at places of worship.

A government census identified 57 graves for exhumation in Abidjan alone, many of which contain multiple bodies. The graves together are believed to contain more than 400 bodies. The exhumation process will eventually extend throughout the country, Coulibaly said.

Yopougon was a flashpoint during the violence, and Coulibly said 36 of the 57 graves identified in Abidjan were located in the district. The violence continued in Yopougon for weeks after Gbagbo was arrested from a bunker following military intervention by France and the United Nations.

Coulibaly said the exhumations would provide closure to victims' families while offering valuable information that would help bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.

But in a report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch faulted judicial officials for failing to come up with a strategy to investigate grave crimes committed during the conflict.

Fighters on both sides committed atrocities, including the extrajudicial killings of hundreds, a national commission of inquiry reported last August. But Human Rights Watch said that while more than 150 supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo have been charged in connection with the postelection violence, no Ouattara loyalists have been charged, fueling allegations of "victor's justice." — BBC