Posts Tagged ‘Ivory Coast’

New magazine “Global Geneva” puts “Civitas Maxima” in the limelight

March 21, 2017

Global Geneva is a new English language magazine for the international hub that Geneva want to be. In the issue of 15 March 2017. William Thatcher Dowell discusses the work of ‘CIVITAS MAXIMA’A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity“.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague was created in 2002 to hold individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The concept was good, but the international tribunal was almost immediately paralyzed by politics (See article in the latest edition of Global Geneva on justice must be seen to be done). As William Dowell writes, Alain Werner, who created Civitas Maxima in 2012, has a different idea: “represent the victims and fight the cases in domestic courts if need be

Rather than depend exclusively on international tribunals, Werner believes that it is worth shifting the focus to the actual victims of war crimes, and working with them to compile the solid evidence that is needed to enable a prosecution to stand up in any court of law. Once the evidence is there, the cases can be prosecuted in any court that expressly outlaws crimes against humanity. It does not matter if the court is an international tribunal, a specially constituted war crimes court or even an ordinary domestic court.

The name, Civitas Maxima, which translates roughly as “the greater state”, is reference to the legal term in Latin that captures the notion that all civilized societies hold certain values in common.  The implication is that any society, which considers itself civilized, will instinctively condemn international crimes such as crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far, Werner’s group has been investigating well over 10 cases, and at least three have led to actual arrests by national authorities since 2014. That may not seem much, but in fact, it represents a third of the extra-territorial arrests by national states for international crimes in 2014 and 2015. During that period, only eight extra territorial arrests by national authorities took place world-wide. One of Werner’s cases is currently being prosecuted in Switzerland; two are in Belgium. One of the accused, a naturalized American who held Belgian nationality and was arrested in Spain, died while in jail awaiting trial this spring.  This was the first time ever a Western businessman was arrested for the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Werner did this in conjunction with a local Sierra Leone partner, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL). Most of the current public cases involve militia leaders who were responsible for atrocities during civil wars in Liberia.

Alain Werner as a lawyer is also representing victims of Hissène Habré, who was president of Chad from 1982 until 1990. The Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, convicted Habré last May on charges of rape, sexual slavery, and slaughtering members of opposing tribes. Werner had been working on the case since 2008, and it was typical of the kind of case that the ICC would have particular difficulty in dealing with, even if it had jurisdiction. …….“One of the major issues in international justice,” Werner says, “is the fact that politics always affects the process. The International Criminal Court tries to create the impression that it is independent, but so far it has been mainly driven by political factors.” The answer to this conundrum, Werner feels, is for more independent organizations with legal expertise similar to that of Civitas Maxima to take the lead in building convincing cases that will stand up in court, and which cannot be ignored. “Organizations that advocate and write reports, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are doing a great job,” he says. “But in the end, you badly need independent lawyers and trained investigators who can compile evidence that meets international standards.”

A key requirement, of course, is funding. Werner says, “If you work independently you have to come up with the funds on your own, and in our case that is complicated by the fact that we do not accept funding from governments.”  

[Werner’s own involvement in prosecuting war crimes started with his work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, including the trial of the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor…… In 2009, he went to Cambodia to represent victims in the case of the Khmer Rouge who had run the infamous S-21 concentration camp that fed into the “killing fields.”  After that he joined an independent group, the Aegis Trust, which also runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda , and which had a small programme focused on helping victims gather evidence.  The initiative ran out of funding after about two years, but by then Werner was already heavily involved in a number of cases involving victims of Charles Taylor’s operations in Liberia.  Werner decided that he couldn’t abandon the work, and so he created Civitas Maxima]

Werner is also collecting evidence from victims of Ivory Coast’s current president, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces are accused of committing atrocities during the post-electoral violence of 2010 and 2011. His predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, is the first head of state to be tried for war crimes at the ICC for atrocities committed during the same period by his own forces.  With both current and past president accused of war crimes, Ivory Coast is a particularly sensitive area…..

We need to grow the concept,” he says. “Will Civitas Maxima continue to be successful, or will another independent take the idea and make it grow? I don’t know, but I am convinced that we really need this innovative approach. In the United States, you have a head of state saying that torture is fine and in the Philippines another one boasting about the fact that he has killed criminals. The climate is getting crazy. We absolutely need more fiercely independent lawyers to use their expertise to counter impunity for mass crimes.

Source: CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity | Global Geneva

Interview with human rights defender Victor Nanklan Touré of Ivory Coast (in French)

February 13, 2017

Victor Nanklan Touré is the president of NGO ‘Club Union Africaine Côte d’Ivoire’ which is mainly working on statelessness and land issues. A human rights advocate for over 15 years he participated in the civil society training organised in Banjul from 15 to 16 October 2016 by ISHR, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies. On this occasion he presented his work to ISHR and shared a message towards African political leaders.

The interview mentioned above is unfortunately only available in French.

Profile of Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

May 27, 2016

Pedan Marthe Coulibaly human rights defender Côte d'Ivoire.







Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

Ms Pedan Marthe Coulibaly is the national coordinator of the “Coalition Ivoirienne des défenseurs des droits humains” (human rights defenders coalition from Côte d’Ivoire). She was part of the NGO delegation sent by ISHR to participate in the 58th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On 11 April 2016 ISHR published the following interview on her work

The Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des droits humains (CIDDH) was founded in 2004 and gathers together more than a dozen national civil society organisations. Its two main missions are to protect human rights defenders and to promote their rights. This work mostly involves raising awareness of and increasing the capacity of defenders to make use of human rights protection mechanisms. A founding member of the Centre féminin pour la démocratie et les droits humains (Women’s centre for democracy and human rights) in Côte d’Ivoire, Ms Coulibaly has been advocating for human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular, for over a decade. She started engaging on these issues immediately after graduating, when she realised that during the 2002 national crisis women were among the most exposed to human rights violations.

What does the coalition do?

The first activity of CIDDH is to ‘connect with the member organisations on a regular basis and seek information about the realities of their work’. The aim is to stay in tune with the challenges facing grassroots human rights defenders and, when needed, to identify ways of assisting them.

When informed about a difficulty facing a defender, the coalition carries out a risk analysis of the situation. If the risk is deemed high, the coalition can decide to alert partners, such as the West African human rights defenders network; send communications to the United Nations and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders; or collect resources among its network in order to ‘move the defender to a safe place’.  Sometimes, the coalition may also publish press releases for distribution at press conferences.

Who are the most exposed defenders in Côte d’Ivoire? 

Given her pivotal role within CIDDH, Ms Coulibaly has been able to identify some of the most at risk defenders in Côte d’Ivoire, who are typically those working on sensitive issues, such as extractive industries. 

‘When they go to the field, defenders working on extractive industries are often forced to hide their true identity and the name of their organisations. (…) They can be subject to intimidations or threats from industries, sometimes with the support of administrative authorities.’

Defenders who question certain cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, are also often the targets of  hostile community reactions.

The role of the coalition in the development of the HRD law

CIDDH was at the frontline throughout the drafting and adoption process of the recent law on human rights defenders in Côte d’Ivoire. The coalition was first invited by the Ministry of Human Rights to participate in the validation session of the draft law. CIDDH then initiated an intensive advocacy campaign to ensure the recommendations and concerns they shared at the validation session had been taken into account.

CIDDH also intended to check if the parliamentarians targeted during the advocacy campaign had appropriated the recommendations as their own and shared them during the adoption process. One of the concerns exposed by the coalition was the need to include the notion of ‘threat’ in the list of dangers facing women human rights defenders. This concern was duly included in the adoption process. Regretfully, the coalition’s opposition to the obligation for human rights defenders to submit annual reports to the State fell on deaf ears.

The coalition subsequently attended, as an observer, the parliamentary session to adopt the law, where they were relieved to witness that most of the recommendations made by human rights defenders had been retained.

Following the adoption, CIDDH focused on training human rights defenders so they could get to know the content of the law and ‘make it theirs so as to promote their own rights’. The coalition intends to continue advocating for the adoption of an implementation decree for the law, as well as for an implementation mechanism to be put in place.  

More proactivity for better protection 

While recognising the crucial role of ‘emergency funds’ provided by partners such as Frontline Defenders when defenders’ rights are violated, Ms Coulibaly insists on the need for and the difficulty in achieving a more proactive approach.

 ‘We should not wait to see real dangers before starting to collect resources to protect defenders (…) If the coalition had permanent resources for a staff member dedicated to the protection of defenders, this would make the work of defenders a lot easier.’

Ms Coulibaly also calls for the international community to step in for the protection of human rights defenders. She stresses that ‘collaboration with the international community should go beyond exchange of information, communications or reports’ and take the form of ‘concrete measures’ to protect defenders.

Putting defenders at the heart of the African Year of Human Rights

With 2016 being declared the African Year of Human Rights by the African Union there is an opportunity to make an assessment of the situation of human rights defenders in Africa, says Ms Coulibaly. The progress made to date and remaining challenges should be identified. It is also essential that each country sets up strategies to implement laws protecting human rights and that these laws have a real effect on the ground.  

‘It is a real problem: protocols are being adopted, legal instruments are being adopted, but these documents have no impact on real life. No one can feel any change.’

Source: Defender profile : Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, woman human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire | ISHR

Erik-Aimé Semien: human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

December 26, 2015


Erik-Aimé Semien is a lawyer and human rights defender at Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme, a non-governmental organisation that aims to achieve human rights progress through capacity building and constructive dialogue with the authorities. On 9 July 2015 he talked with the Intern national Service for Human Rights about his work. ‘What we want’, Eric explains, ‘is to make them understand why human rights are important for the progress of our nation’.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Eric was first drawn to human rights when Cote d’Ivoire plunged into civil war in 1999, following a military-led coup d’etat. What followed were ten years of violence and sectarian strife. ‘We are a country coming out of ten years of civil war, but the main problems are not yet solved. It was widespread frustration and a lack of democratic institutions that caused the war; and it is for overcoming frustration and the creation of democratic institutions that we continue to struggle.’

Eric explains that frustration is caused when there is a lack of transparency in government work, when the president favours his regional or ethnic group over others, when there is impunity for war crimes, and when voices critical of the government are excluded from debate.

Take the national TV, a public service paid for by public taxes. If you watch TV in Cote d’Ivoire, you will receive the impression that the perspective of the president of the republic is the only perspective there is. It was the same for the former president. This means that if you disagree with government policy, National TV will no longer interest you, for you will find no expression of your opinion. This begs the question, if you disagree, where can you go? To whom can you speak? The result is frustration. The media outlets need to be open to everybody, to civil society, to the opposition, to everybody.

In addition to advocating for more inclusive democratic institutions, Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme works to combat impunity. The war lasted ten years, but today, not only do many people on the winning side who committed human rights violations walk free, but they also enjoy appointments in the army and the administration.

‘After the war I think we should have a fair and equitable justice. What a victim wants is to see those who committed human rights violations behind bars. We organise victims and take their cases to court. We say to the judge, find out who did this and send them to prison. If they do this, it will release tension. The government recently set up a trust fund that provides financial compensation for victims. This is a positive step. But it needs to be accompanied by a clear message: whoever you are, in whatever position, you are not above the rule of law.’

One of the challenges Eric faces is a lack of awareness in the government of what human rights defenders are and what they do.

‘In Cote d’Ivoire certain authorities don’t have a clear idea of the role of civil society. They think we are causing a disturbance when all we want is the progress of our nation. But I have to admit that the situation is improving. Previously the authorities were closed but now they are much more open. They listen to us more and we are allowed to participate in meetings.’

One remarkable result of this increased openness on the government’s part is the adoption in June 2014 of a law that protects human rights defenders. ‘In the build up to the drafting of this law, we clearly explained why protecting human rights defenders was important. Many human rights NGOs were involved in the process. We had several meetings with parliament representatives and even at the national assembly. We had to explain who human rights defenders were and why protecting them is important. I am proud of Cote d’Ivoire that we have adopted this law, which is the only law of its kind on the African continent.’

The law, although still largely unknown, has already had a positive impact. In 2014 the leaders of a public assembly protesting the high costs of grocery goods were arrested. But the Observatioire Ivoirienne intervened and showed the prosecutor the law. The protesters were subsequently freed. ‘Now, whenever we have a problem with authorities, we can show them this law, and they will see that we are protected. This will make our work much easier and less dangerous. In a democracy, in a rule of law state, the government should engage with civil society. The role of civil society is that of counter balance. We don’t want to antagonise the authorities needlessly nor do we seek power. We would like to see change coming from the inside and genuinely inclusive democratic institutions and not just superficial engagement. I am proud of Cote d’Ivoire for the progress we have made, of which this new law is tangible proof, but we still have some way to go. The frustration that causes war needs to be eliminated for good.

Source: Erik-Aimé Semien: Human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire | ISHR

Preview of Human Rights Defenders stuff at the upcoming Human Rights Council starting 15 June

June 12, 2015

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 29th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 15 June to 3 July. Courtesy of the International Service for Human Rights, here is my selection of what is directly relevant to Human Rights Defenders: ISHR-logo-colour-high

– During the session, Norway, along with other States, will deliver a statement calling on all States to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their vital work free from arbitrary detention and other restrictions. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defenders in Ivory Coast protest against Teen Pregnancy

September 10, 2014

Former participants of Equitas’ Regional Human Rights Training Session rallied in Gonzacqueville, Ivory Coast, to raise awareness of teen pregnancy which leads girls to cut their education short. The protest was held last Saturday, 30 August 30 and brought together people from all walks of life in the community. “We wanted to raise awareness of this growing phenomenon,” said the spokesperson of the campaign, Koné Tenin. Fourteen cases of teenage pregnancies have been reported recently at the Gonzacqueville Lycée.

» Human Rights Defenders Mobilize in Ivory Coast against Teen Pregnancy | Human Rights Defenders Mobilize in Ivory Coast against Teen Pregnancy | Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education / Centre international d’éducation aux droits humains.

Office of NGO ‘Alternative’ in Ivory Coast attacked again

January 28, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped reports that on 25 January 2014 the office of LGBTI rights organisation Alternative in Côte d’Ivoire was attacked for the fourth time, and a security guard was hospitalised.  The attack is the fourth such attack in one week, and follows previous threats.  During the attack on the offices, laptops and desktop PCs were stolen and everything else in the office destroyed, including the electricity supply lines and emergency food supplies for people living with AIDS. It is reported that although members of the organisation called on the nearby police to help, the police did not come.

[On 20 January 2013, a mob attacked the home of human rights defender Mr Claver Touré, executive director of Alternative. For more information]