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01.10.2014 Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast truth commission testimony ends

By Joris Fioriti
The president of the Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue Commission, Charles Konan Banny (C), attends the opening session with members of the commission on September 8, 2014 in Abidjan.  By Issouf Sanogo (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 1, 2014
The president of the Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue Commission, Charles Konan Banny (C), attends the opening session with members of the commission on September 8, 2014 in Abidjan. By Issouf Sanogo (AFP/File)

Abidjan (AFP) - Public testimony ended Tuesday in Ivory Coast's truth commission, which was formed to probe nearly a decade of bloody political violence.

Eighty people, including victims and perpetrators, had spoken during three weeks of public testimony. They were only a fraction of the tens of thousands of witness statements concerning the country's crisis following the presidential election of opposition leader Laurent Gbagbo in 2000.

Witnesses "reflected as much as is possible the national museum of horrors," said former prime minister Charles Konan Banny, who chaired the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR)in the west African country's capital Abidjan.

However, the lack of television broadcasts from the commission and low key media coverage meant that powerful witness statements had little impact across the country. That raised questions over whether the commission could meet its goals of healing the national trauma.

One of the last to testify was a disfigured man who told the audience of about 30 how Liberian militias had forced him to eat his own right ear in 2006.

Earlier, a young woman and her tearful mother recounted their rapes in 2011 in Abidjan at the end of the post-electoral crisis.

Banny said witnesses were chosen without prejudice. "We did not favour one horror over another, or perpetrators from one side over another, or the place or the time," he said.

"I have completed the action plan I was given by the head of state," he said. "We are not looking for quantity, but the symbol of what must not happen," he said, when asked why so few people had testified in public, while 63,000 people gave statements.

- Elections and murder -

The hearings were modelled on South Africa's truth commission, which anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela introduced in 1995 as a way of allowing the country to confront and overcome its past. In that case, apartheid victims were able to pardon those who admitted to perpetrating crimes.

Ivory Coast's inquiry opened on September 8 almost three years after the 11-member panel was sworn in. The choice of Konan Banny as chairman prompted accusations of political bias.

Once the economic powerhouse of west Africa and still the world's leading cocoa producer, Ivory Coast was plunged into crisis after Gbagbo was elected president.

A rebel front, the New Forces (FN), launched an insurgency in 2002, taking control of northern towns. One of their grievances was that Alassane Ouattara, a prominent northerner, was banned from confronting Gbagbo at the polls on grounds of contested nationality.

Thousands died in the conflict and several mass graves were uncovered, while the country was long divided between an FN-held north and the south in the hands of Gbagbo's troops and volatile youth militias.

Under the aegis of a United Nations mission and pressure from former colonial power France, a long-stalled presidential poll was held late in 2010, this time pitting Ouattara against the incumbent.

Early in December 2010, the national electoral commission proclaimed Ouattara the winner, but Gbagbo refused to accept defeat, sparking five months of conflict that ended after he was arrested on April 11, 2011.

Ouattara formally became head of state, already recognised by the UN and foreign peers, but at the cost of 3,000 lives in Abidjan. Today, Gbagbo faces trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The reconciliation panel was appointed to cover the period after Gbagbo came to power.

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