Côte d’Ivoire: Insight after the Oulaye case, and Ivorian Justice system

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The condemnation of Hubert Oulaye, Tuesday, December 26, has resurfaced the controversy around the neutrality of the Ivorian justice, accused by some of being in the pay of the political power. In recent years, several assize trials have witnessed prominent political figures. Often highly anticipated, they regularly fueled the controversy.

“It’s not justice. It is a conviction without proof. This unpopular expression of Hubert Oulaye , former minister of Laurent Gbagbo and baron of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), pronounced at the time of his condemnation, December 26, reflects a sentiment shared by many observers.

Over the last five years, the Ivorian justice system has delivered verdicts whose relevance, fairness, even legality, has often escaped the ordinary citizen as well as the informed observer. A review of five controversial verdicts that continue to raise the issue of the independence of the judiciary, in a country where it has the heavy burden of settling the accounts of a very political conflict.

December 26, 2017

After a trial where material evidence and direct witnesses were lacking, Hubert Oulaye, former Minister of Public Service, formerly politically very active in his native region of the west of the country, is sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for “complicity in assassination” of seven UN peacekeepers from the former United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). They were killed on June 8, 2012, in an Ivorian village on the border with Liberia, during an ambush attributed to Liberian mercenaries, in connection with Ivorian militants in favor of Laurent Gbagbo.

Hubert Oulaye was arrested in May 2015, six months after returning from his Ghanaian exile. He was subsequently released on medical grounds in early June 2017. He was being prosecuted with a co-accused, Maurice Djiré, a 37-year-old villager from Guiglo (Uulaye’s hometown), who was sentenced to the same sentence for the same facts. After the verdict, while Hubert Oulaye emerged free of the court, Djire, he returned to the House of arrest and correction of Abidjan (Maca).

The reason: While condemning the two men to 20 years in prison, the court, in its judgment, did not issue a warrant of committal at the hearing, so the status quo ante was applied to convicts .

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December 14, 2017

The trial of magistrate Placide Kouassi Kouassi , accused of killing on Christmas night 2014, Habib Malick Fall, a famous young man from Cocody (a posh town of Abidjan), ends with a rather unexpected verdict : thirty-six months in prison for “lethal strike and illegal possession of Category 5 weapons and ammunition”. The magistrate, who had already spent more than thirty-five months in prison, was therefore to be released soon after the trial.

A verdict that seemed to confirm the embarrassment of the judges in this unprecedented trial, in a country where they were previously considered, rightly or wrongly, as untouchable. There is much evidence of a botched investigation that is supposed to result in an expeditious trial. Indeed, at the opening of the hearing, the murder weapon mysteriously disappeared in the court, to reappear a day later. Other signs disappeared from the hospital ward where the young man had undergone three operations before succumbing to his injuries, and forensic expertise was also lacking.

March 9, 2015

The former first lady,  Simone Gbagbo, is sentenced to twenty years in prisonand ten years of deprivation of her civil rights for “undermining the authority of the state, disturbing public order, participation in a movement insurrectional “. The wife of Laurent Gbagbo, partisan of the hard line of the FPI during the reign of her husband, was judged with 79 other people including senior officers and politicians. All are close to the former president, detained at the International Criminal Court (ICC), who played a more or less significant role in the post-election crisis from December 2010 to April 2011.

Sentences were distributed to the client’s head. What are these convictions based on? It’s a lottery.

Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the FPI’s legal chairman, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He had spent more than two years in a prison in the north of the country after his arrest at the end of April 2011. As for Aboudramane Sangaré, president of the trend of rebels of the FPI, and Michel Gbagbo, son of the former president, from a first marriage with a French woman, each of them receives five years’ imprisonment. Despite their conviction, the latter, who appeared free, returned home after spending a little over two years in prison.

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“Sentences were handed over to the head of the client, had carried away Mr. Mathurin Djirabou, lawyer of Simone Gbagbo and old habitué of the political processes in Ivory Coast. What are these convictions based on? It’s a lottery. We can not conceive that, in the current state of the law, we can do this. ”

In fact, no material evidence had been provided to confuse the defendants, according to civil society organizations and journalists who had followed the hearings for two months. “The condemnation of Simone Gbagbo does not mean that justice has been rendered to the victims of the crisis that shook Côte d’Ivoire between 2010 and 2011,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Two years later, the former first lady is acquitted at the end of a trial for crimes against humanity. Announced as historical, this one is not spared by the critics. The verdict will be delivered in the absence of the accused and her counsel, who decided to boycott the last weeks of the hearing to denounce a “political trial”. The bench of the civil parties is also deserted, the human rights associations having decided not to attend the hearings. “As we feared and announced it, this trial was a real fiasco, both on the form – with many irregularities – as on the merits, with a record and debates that unfortunately did not establish the individual responsibility of the former first lady for crimes committed during the post-election crisis “,

January 13, 2015

Four people, including Claude Gohourou and Koné Cheick Oumar, accused of embezzling 4,658 billion FCFA (7.1 million euros) to be used to compensate 6,000 victims of Probo Koala, in the case of toxic waste dumped in Abidjan in August 2006 (seventeen deaths and tens of thousands of poisonings), are sentenced to twenty years in prison … while remaining free.

The decision is not legally valid, it is a political decision

The four defendants were part of an association for the defense of victims of toxic waste, and the amount hijacked was taken from the compensation paid by the multinational Trafigura, charterer of the Probo Koala. At the announcement of this controversial verdict, Mr. Pierre Tanoh, the lawyer of a complainant, was then carried away: “Impunity is still consecrated. The decision is not legally valid, it is a political decision.

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“We no longer have confidence in justice. The powers succeed one another but the behaviors remain the same, “then launched Hanon Charles Koffi, one of the plaintiffs,” disappointed “.

November 6, 2013

Justice sentences fourteen former barons of the coffee-cocoa sector to twenty years in prison for “embezzlement, breach of trust, abuse of corporate property, fraud, forgery and use of forgery in private bank or trade writing.”

They leave, however, free at their homes

Lucien Tape Doh, Henri Kassi Amouzou (deceased in April 2017), Firmin Kouakou, Placide Zoungrana, Angeline Kili and their co-defendants leave however free to their homes. Detained in June 2008, following the scandal of the dubious purchase by Côte d’Ivoire of a Nestlé factory in the United States, before being released on bail in early January 2011, these former barons, formerly very close to Laurent Gbagbo, were accused of embezzling 370 billion FCFA (564 million euros) between 2002 and 2008.

Indeed, the various audits of the coffee-cocoa sector, carried out at the request of the Bretton Woods institutions, had pinned structures dissolved at the advent of Alassane Ouattara and then led by the accused.

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