Dear Mr. President:
I would like to draw your attention to the current trend of events in Cote d’Ivoire. As you read this letter, this West African country finds itself under threat of war. A war that although ‘strategically planned’ is certain to result in the death of thousands of innocent civilians, and the disturbance of peace and security in the region. Encouraged by the International Community, some African nations are planning a military intervention in the country in response to an ongoing, but legitimate political dispute over the presidency. The International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) believe strongly that peace and justice must always be preserved, especially in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, where circumstances surrounding the current political crisis have raised legitimate questions regarding the rule of law and thus the validity of an Alassane Ouattara presidency. We call upon your leadership now so that together we can resolve the current political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire without resorting to the use of force.
Description of Current Situation in Cote D’Ivoire
On October 31, 2010, Ivorian citizens went to the polls to elect their president and to regain their right to inclusive democratic elections after many years of civil war. Although the hope was that Cote d’Ivoire would undergo a fair and peaceful transition in governance, a fiercely contested election results have led to the swearing in of two presidents, whose victories have been determined by conflicting decisions made by two of Cote d’Ivoire’s national institutions: The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council (CC). The President of the IEC, without reaching a consensus as is required by law, declared Alassane Ouattara winner, while the CC, which has ultimate authority in election matters, declared Laurent Gbagbo victor, after reviewing voting reports and irregularities.
From the very beginning of the electoral process, the Electoral Commission’s lack of impartiality was obvious. Controlled by political parties, it was intentionally designed that way to satisfy all parties to the 2002 peace agreement in order to end a major civil conflict that had divided the country. The IEC, which is comprised of 461 members, is over 90% pro-Ouattara. Gbagbo’s support is limited to a mere 42 members. In order to have everybody involved in the peace and political process, President Laurent Gbagbo initially agreed to this composition of the IEC because by law, any decision made by the Commission would have to be unanimous and all votes would have to be made both manually and electronically, ensuring a check upon the system. In addition, Laurent Gbagbo knew that the Constitutional Council (CC), whose head is appointed by the president, had final determination on Presidential and legislative elections in Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivoirian Constitutional Council is victim of the apparent lack of independence common to most African countries’ justice systems in certifying elections rigged by the ruling party.
Both the IEC and the United Nations (UN) were tasked with overseeing and monitoring the October presidential election; however, there were significant obstacles to the successful implementation of this task, which included serious abuses by pro-Ouattara rebel forces in the North, as well as the IEC’s reported tampering with election results. Northern rebel forces loyal to Ouattara refused to disarm before the elections, as was required by the peace agreement. Rebel forces then prevented substantial UN involvement in election preparation and monitoring in the North. Without any protection, Gbagbo’s northern supporters faced serious pressure and violence from opposition and rebel forces. The few international and African election observers that had access in the North documented cases of murder, beatings and intimidation of pro-Gbagbo voters, and ballots were being supervised, stuffed, and carried by rebel forces, contrary to election rules.
As a result of rebel interference, voting irregularities in the North were significant. In addition, in several districts, the IEC mysteriously reported different voting results from independent, international election monitors. For instance, in the district of Bandama, election monitors reported a total of approximately 150,000 votes for Ouattara; however, the local IEC put Ouattara at 245,000 votes, a 95,000 vote surplus that could not be explained. Also, of the 20,073 manual tally-ups of votes submitted for electronic verification, 2,000 were rejected for over-stating the number of registered voters, which altogether accounted for an additional 600,000 votes. Furthermore, the IEC overstepped its authority in unilaterally invalidating absentee voting ballots from over 28 districts in France.
For the election, the IEC was tasked with reviewing and reporting election results and determining the victor through consensus by a designated deadline date, as is required by law. The IEC was also required to report voting irregularities and human rights abuses to the CC, which exercises sole authority over such matters. However, the IEC failed in both regards, first by violating its mandate in announcing Alassane Ouattara’s victory without reaching consensus and well beyond the deadline, and second, by not properly addressing major election and human rights abuses. Shortly after the IEC announced its decision, the Constitutional Council claimed, after a review of election results and reported irregularities, that incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo had actually won the election, thus invalidating the IEC’s determination—a power it alone possesses under the Ivorian constitution.
When the president of the IEC, Mr. Yousouf Bakayoko appeared at the Golf hotel, which Ouattara had been using as his headquarters, to proclaim well beyond the designated constitutional deadline, that Ouattara had won the election, the IEC had reached a consensus and consolidated the results in only 15 of the 19 electoral areas of Cote d’Ivoire. No consensus had been reached at that time for four areas under the rebellion’s control, where voting irregularities and violence were observed. However, the results given by the Head of IEC included the contested numbers from the North. By that point, Cote d’Ivoire’s constitution clearly gives the Council final say in determining election results. After examining the claims of irregularities, and analyzing the reports and tallies, the CC partially invalidated some of the fraudulent votes from the northern regions and, after the adjustments were completed, proclaimed Laurent Gbagbo as winner with 51.45% of the vote to Ouattara’s 48.55%.
The Post-Electoral Dispute
On the basis of the IEC's results and with increasing support from the International Community (IC), Mr. Alassane Ouattara maintains that he is the elected president. He claims that the CC had abused its authority. However, in reviewing election results and announcing Gbagbo victor, the CC, which is structured and organized in the same way as the French Constitutional Council, exercised its rights and responsibility as outlined by the Ivorian constitution. The Council is the supreme authority in these matters. It is vested with the constitutional power to declare an election invalid if improperly conducted, and its decisions are binding on all authorities. Given these facts, Gbagbo has remained steadfast in his assertion that he is the elected president.
The International Response:
From the very beginning of this political crisis, the IC has failed to legitimately address the core issue surrounding this electoral dispute, choosing instead to ignore obvious rule of law violations and to offer unmitigated support to Ouattara. The decision by the IC, as well as the UN (whose responsibility is to remain impartial in contending with such matters), to deny the CC its rights and responsibilities outlined under the Ivorian constitution is completely contrary to the principles of the rule of law and to what the IC has demanded of African nations. The UN acted particularly incredulously in ratifying the IEC’s provisional results without addressing legitimate claims of human rights abuses and election fraud in the North. The UN’s primary responsibility is ensuring free and fair elections and the protection of human rights. It is expected to respond when violations have occurred, and yet in Cote D’Ivoire, it has completely failed to do so.
The IC’s failure to acknowledge or investigate legitimate concerns raised regarding election fraud as well as the Council’s role in the electoral process is deeply regrettable and counterproductive to establishing an environment for sustainable economic and political development in Africa. Furthermore, the IC, which includes the UN, EU, AU and some ECOWAS members, have also failed to sufficiently justify their decision to support Mr. Alassane Ouattara. They have provided neither legal justification, nor convincing evidence in support of their decision to deny the CC its rightful authority to determine the winner under the Ivorian constitution. Given this fact, the IC cannot justify the use of force against any party to the dispute, particularly since the IC rarely ever took such a strong stance on African issues, even in cases of atrocious human rights abuses.
The IIJD’s Contribution:
The International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) believes the concerns outlined above to be of critical importance to the people of Cote d’Ivoire, as well as to neighboring countries, the sub-region, Africa and the world. The electoral process must be fair, transparent and impartial for everyone. All institutions and individuals involved in administrating and observing elections must be held to those principles. No institution, be it the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), or the Constitutional Council should be manipulated and/or permitted to bypass those principles. This is a matter in which justice, a necessary condition for peace and security, must take precedence over political expediency and the narrow interests of a few. International organizations, especially the UN, AU and ECOWAS, should act responsibly to find a peaceful and just solution to the crisis, as dictated by the facts and the best interests of the people of Cote d’Ivoire.
As an organization that promotes the principles of democratic governance and rule of law, the IIJD has a firm position on democracy in Africa. However, given the facts in this case, nobody could say with certitude today that either Mr. Ouattara or Mr. Gbagbo has won the presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire. That is why we call upon all parties, including the international community, to exercise restraint in order to ensure the safety and security of all Ivoirians and to seek a just resolution of the situation that first and foremost respects the rule of law and ensures that basic democratic principles are protected. In order to preserve peace and avoid another war in Cote d’Ivoire, the IIJD proposes the implementation of one or more of the following options:
- A complete review of the election results including investigating the irregularities and recounting of all the votes to determine the real winner of the presidential election.
- The reorganization of vote in areas where results have been credibly disputed, including all areas where acts of violence and intimidation by security or rebel forces were observed by objective third parties.
- The implementation of a second election or ‘run-off’ throughout the entire country.
The above three options should be organized, supervised and observed by an independent group composed of reputable NGOs, respected and well-known world leaders and other reputable democratic governance professionals. The IIJD strongly believes that implementing one of the above-mentioned options will ensure respect for the rule of law and due consideration for the circumstances surrounding the dispute. Furthermore, none of these three options should be viewed as too costly, given the price Ivorians will pay if they must again experience war.
Africa has suffered through generations of war, genocide, economic devastation and political chaos. It is time for a new era of American leadership that promotes real democratic reform, justice and the protection of human rights in Africa. We call upon your leadership in resolving this situation peacefully and with due respect for the rule of law.
The whole continent is observing you. We firmly believe that with your support, the Ivorian people, and all parties to the dispute, will finally be provided what they have been so wrongly denied thus far: a fair opportunity to justice.
On behalf of the present and future generations of Africans, we thank you for your consideration of our appeal.
With my highest esteem and sincerest consideration,