Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Open letter from Human Rights Watch to Ban Ki-moon

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is currently touring four West African states. On the eve of that trip, Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to the Secretary General regarding outstanding human rights issues in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

Here are the excerpts.


While the [Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission]—empowered to recommend for prosecution the most serious offenders—has made significant progress chronicling a record of abuses, there appears to be no national strategy and little discussion by Liberian or international actors for holding perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to account. Human Rights Watch believes that the many victims of these unspeakable crimes deserve justice for what they have suffered, and that prosecutions of the most serious crimes committed would go a long way towards consolidating and firmly anchoring respect for the rule of law in Liberia.

During your discussions with representatives of Liberia’s government and civil society we therefore urge you to emphasize the importance of accountability for past human rights violations, and also to encourage them to develop a strategy for prosecuting those allegedly responsible for the most egregious crimes. Given the persistent weaknesses in the Liberian justice system, international support is very likely to be necessary to ensuring justice for these crimes.

Cote d’Ivoire:

Impunity for Past and Ongoing Human Rights Abuses: Côte d’Ivoire is characterized today by an intense focus on the part of nearly all actors with a stake in the Ivorian crisis—at both the international and local levels—on the process leading towards upcoming presidential elections, currently scheduled for November of this year. While Human Rights Watch salutes the progress that has been made in implementing the Ouagadougou Agreement and the role the United Nations has played therein, we are concerned that in its narrow focus on elections, the international community risks losing sight of the need to resolve issues of impunity for human rights violations that are critical not only to calm during the upcoming elections themselves, but also to long-term prospects for peace and stability.

Despite the relative decrease in political tensions since the signing of the Ouagadougou Agreement, impunity for past and ongoing violations of human rights persists. Should political tensions rise in the lead-up to elections, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the prevailing climate of impunity could facilitate a dramatic resurgence of human rights abuses, which in turn could threaten the integrity of the elections themselves. It is therefore imperative that the international community begin to work with the government of Côte d’Ivoire in advance of the elections to tackle issues arising from impunity and the need for justice.

The letter called for three ways the United Nations could continue its critical role:

  • Initiate a public dialogue regarding the human rights abuses that occurred during the civil war.
  • Publish the findings of the 2002 study on human rights violations in the country
  • Push the Ivorian government to accept a mission of the International Criminal Court to asses the possibility of an investigation regarding crimes committed in the country.

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