ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Around two-thirds of those killed in Ivory Coast’s civil war last year were summarily executed, many of them by fighters backing the current president, according to an inquiry commissioned by the government and seen by Reuters on Friday.
The investigation paves the way for the prosecution of actors on both sides of the war, which claimed more than 3,000 lives, and is seen as a significant step toward healing divisions in the West African country.
The national commission of inquiry (CNE) investigated violence between October 2010 and May 2011 and catalogued crimes including murder, rape, torture, forced disappearances and attacks on civilian populations.
“The CNE notes that, among the 3,248 victims registered, figure 2,241 cases of individuals summarily executed for apparent political and/or ethnic reasons,” read the report, which has not yet been published.
The fighting erupted after then-President Laurent Gbagbo rejected Alassane Ouattara’s victory in an election in late 2010, after a decade of political impasse that left Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, divided in two. By the beginning of last year, the violence had descended into civil war.
The commission found that 1,009 of those executions had been committed by pro-Gbagbo forces, including the army, irregular militia he funded and Liberian mercenaries recruited to fight on his behalf.
Gbagbo is currently in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, and most of his political and military allies are either in detention in Ivory Coast or living in exile.
The investigators, who based their findings on nearly 16,000 interviews, also found the FRCI, the pro-Ouattara force that received the backing of United Nations peacekeepers and the French army, had carried out 545 executions.
Another 200 people were killed by dozos, the traditional hunters that overwhelming supported Ouattara and fought alongside the FRCI. The rest of the documented executions were attributed to fighters of unknown affiliation or local self-defense groups.
Both sides committed acts that likely constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the report said. It did not specify whether the executions had targeted fighters or civilians.
Though the findings do not have the force of a formal judicial investigation, the commission in its conclusions called for the “opening of prosecutions against the suspected authors of violations without regard to their social status”.
However, the 34-page report seen by Reuters - which is the version expected to be released to the public - did not give the names of those believed to have been directly responsible for the crimes.
Ouattara, now president, has been accused by rights groups of carrying out victor’s justice by arresting over 100 of Gbagbo’s supporters while failing to act on evidence indicating that his own fighters had also committed serious crimes.
He has repeatedly stated that he would wait for the commission’s findings before pursuing further prosecutions.
“Once the results are in, anyone who has been involved in crimes will be prosecuted. No one will be protected,” he said in an interview with the BBC last week.
“I want the rule of law in (Ivory Coast). We will be letting the courts do their job. I will not interfere. And I think this is the only way to heal things,” he said.
The commission officially submitted its report to Ouattara on Wednesday, and a source at the presidency said the report would be released shortly, possibly as early as this week.
The U.N. and rights campaigners have called for its swift publication.
“The commission’s success in documenting atrocities by both sides should hasten the impartial justice promised by President Ouattara,” Matt Wells, West Africa researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
“However, the report version to be made public appears sorely lacking in details about specific events and command responsibility. The Ivorian public deserves to see the full breadth of the commission’s work,” he said.
Analysts say attempts to prosecute FRCI officers, many of whom now occupy top positions in the military, would be a delicate process and could risk further destabilizing the country’s already deeply fractured army.
At least 10 soldiers were killed in raids on military and police installations in and around the West African nation’s commercial capital Abidjan this week, raising fears that renewed instability could threaten post-war recovery.
The government has blamed Gbagbo loyalists for the attacks and on Wednesday announced it had arrested 11 men, including serving army personnel, allegedly involved in planning and carrying out the raids. Political allies of the former president rejected the accusations.
Additional reporting by Ange Aboa; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alessandra Rizzo