Clinton commends Ivory Coast justice effort

By Bradley Klapper

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 7:45 a.m. MST

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is welcomed to Abidjan by Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, centre and the U.S. Ambassador Phillip Carter III after arriving on her jet, Monday Jan. 16, 2012.

Larry Downing, Pool, Associated Press

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday praised Ivory Coast's government for seeking justice and accountability for crimes committed after a disputed 2010 election sent the country spiraling into violence.

But human rights groups say Alassane Ouattara's administration has not done enough to prosecute members of its armed forces who are linked to massacres. Since Ouattara took office in April, only members of the previous regime have been imprisoned, prompting many to accuse Ouattara of "victor's justice."

"We commend the Ivorian government for the steps they are taking to hold those who perpetrated human rights abuses accountable," Clinton told reporters after a private meeting with Ouattara. "All Ivorians need to see that the rule of law is working, and that there is impartial justice. A transparent system to ensure that all atrocities are fully investigated, that the perpetrators regardless of which side they were on are held to account."

To date not a single official in Ouattara's military has been implicated. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have provided detailed documentation of alleged abuse by troops loyal to Ouattara.

Ouattara won the November 2010 election, but was blocked from office by ex-President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave his post. For nearly five months, Ouattara was imprisoned inside an aging hotel, his exits blocked by the strongman's troops. Pro-Ouattara neighborhoods were shelled, and hundreds of his supporters were killed.

Ouattara only succeeded in removing Gbagbo after enlisting the help of a former rebel group, whose members now make up the elite tier of the Ivorian army. His troops are accused of setting fire to scores of villages, gang-raping women, and executing the infirm and the elderly.

Gbagbo was placed under house arrest, and late last year was airlifted to the Netherlands to face trial at the International Criminal Court. Further indictments from the world court are expected, and leading rights groups are pushing to have senior officials in Ouattara's administration tried.

Clinton also praised the economic recovery in Ivory Coast. Once one of the most prosperous nations in Africa, Ivory Coast was brought to its knees by the election dispute, its port closed, its bank accounts frozen. Since Ouattara took office, trade has resumed including in the profitable cocoa sector.

"I am inspired by how quickly not only the government but the people have moved from the violence of last spring, to successful legislative elections in December, and the commitment that is in the air to build a better future for all Ivorians," Clinton said.

Clinton is wrapping up a four-country tour of West Africa, which included attending the inauguration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. In addition to Ivory Coast, Clinton will also visit Togo and Cape Verde.

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