Ivory Coast: truth or Justice?

27 April 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

How salubrious and healing are Truth and Reconciliation Commissions? This question rears its head again in Ivory Coast. The country’s new president hopes such a commission would restore the calm needed for a future of peace. At the same time, it could offer Ouattara the possibility of not having to appear in court. 

One of the first statements made by Allasane Ouattara as president, after he had finally crushed his rival, was: ‘a truth and reconciliation commission is going to heal the wounds of the civil war’. Ouattara is facing the emblematic problem of political transition: he has to rebuild the country and settle the past.

Ivory Coast’s much divided population must find a way to live side by side, while the two former presidential rivals must bear responsibility for possible crimes against humanity their troops might have committed. Is it a matter for a TRC, or for judges in a court of law?

Ouattara looks at South Africa, which serves as the classic example of dealing with a brutal past without the interference of judges. Desmond Tutu’s truth commission in the 1990s uncovered the atrocities of Apartheid. Victims were heard in public, while perpetrators were offered amnesty in exchange for confessions. The commission’s purpose was to document past atrocities, reconcile the black and white populations, and reach justice. In South Africa, healing was more important than retribution in court.

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