Moreno-Ocampo Once Again Undermines the OTP’s Credibility
Moreno-Ocampo’s inability to avoid allegations of bias has long haunted his tenure as Prosecutor. It’s impossible to forget, for example, photos of him standing next to the Ugandan President, Youweri Museveni, as he announced that he was investigating the situation in Northern Uganda — an act that Ugandans widely perceived, rightly in light of the OTP’s failure to seriously investigate crimes committed by government forces, as indicating that the ICC was working on behalf of the Ugandan government.
Unfortunately, Moreno-Ocampo seems to have learned nothing over the years. Case in point: the letter he just sent to Guillaume Soro, the former commander of the pro-Outtara rebel group Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), congratulating Soro on his election as President of the Cote D’Ivoire National Assembly. Here is an English translation of some of the letter, which Soro posted on his Facebook page on April 4:
I have the honor to extend my most sincere congratulations and those of my collaborators on your appointment as President of the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire…. I want to reiterate my gratitude for your action and support for the work of my Office in Côte d’Ivoire, and I hope you will continue the same quality collaboration with my successor, Fatou Bensouda…. I hope we will have the opportunity to see us in the coming weeks to continue the fruitful cooperation between your Government and my office.
It is understandable that the OTP wants to maintain good relations with the Ivorian government, which has not ratified the Rome Statute but has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis under Article 12(3). The problem is that Soro does not exactly have clean hands in the various conflicts that have torn Cote D’Ivoire apart for the past decade; on the contrary, Human Rights Watch, the UN, and other groups have documented his responsibility time and again for a wide variety of very serious war crimes and crimes against humanity. Here, for example, is a snippet from one of HRW’s 2011 reports (emphasis added):
People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces, now called the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, FRCI), summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush. The fighters often targeted people by ethnicity, and the attacks disproportionally affected those too old or feeble to flee.
In one particularly horrific incident, hundreds of ethnic Guéré civilians perceived as supporting Gbagbo were massacred in the western town of Duékoué by a mixture of pro-Ouattara groups, including Republican Forces under the overall command of Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro.
Three Human Rights Watch researchers conducted investigations in the Grand Gedeh region of Liberia between March 26 and April 7, interviewing over 120 victims of and witnesses to human rights abuses committed by both sides’ forces in the far western region of Côte d’Ivoire. More than 40,000 Ivorians have fled to Grand Gedeh as a result of the fighting. Human Rights Watch also interviewed some 20 victims and witnesses still in the far west towns of Guiglo, Duékoué, and Bloléquin by telephone.
Ouattara’s Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire comprise a loose coalition of combatants who previously fought for the Forces Nouvelles (“New Forces”) rebellion, the long-time rebel army led by Soro that has controlled the northern half of the country since late 2002. The Republican Forces also include former Ivorian army soldiers, policemen, and gendarmes who have recently defected from Gbagbo’s side.
In village after village investigated by Human Rights Watch, Republican Forces combatants killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guéré population. The Guéré are originally from western Côte d’Ivoire and largely supported Gbagbo in last year’s election. A 47-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that she looked on as two fighters killed her father, husband, and 10-year-old son around the family’s cocoa farm near Doké. A 32-year-old man described pro-Ouattara forces entering Diboké and opening fire on civilians as they ran out to see which side’s forces had entered, killing at least three people right in front of him. In at least 10 villages around Toulepleu and Bloléquin, villagers said they hid in the bush and watched as the Republican Forces set fire to houses and buildings used to store crops and seeds, slaughtered animals, and stole everything of value.
Examples of Soro’s responsibility could be multiplied indefinitely, but this report is enough to show that Moreno-Ocampo’s public support for Soro can only undermine the OTP’s credibility in Cote D’Ivoire. Indeed, people better informed than I have told me that the Ivorian media are having a field day with the letter. And here is what one of the lawyers for former President Gbagbo, who is currently facing charges at the ICC, had to say:
This is proof of the vast neutrality of the ICC! Seriously, this calls into question the credibility of the ICC, which can only be redeemed simply by canceling the arrest warrant against President Gbagbo.
The lawyer’s remedy, cancelling the arrest warrant, is clearly unnecessary. Soro’s responsibility for international crimes has no bearing on whether the charges against Gbagbo are justified. Her analysis of the ICC’s credibility, however, is spot-on. No matter how much the OTP needs the cooperation of the Ivorian government, it must remain — and be seen to remain — willing and able to investigate both sides of the conflict in Cote D’Ivoire. Letters like the one Moreno-Ocampo sent to Soro simply undermine that goal.