Chris Blattman

Missteps by the international community in Cote d’Ivoire

At first, West African states, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations spoke with one voice, insisting that Ouattara had won the election and that a power-sharing agreement (of the kind that has failed miserably in Kenya and Zimbabwe) was not an option. Such unanimity countered Gbagbo’s strategy of playing for time, hoping that African-European or inter-African schisms would provide him with some sort of mitigated legitimacy. Economic moves by the eight West African states that share the CFA currency to cut off the Gbagbo government’s access to banking channels was innovative and undercut Gbagbo’s ability to pay the salaries of civil servants and soldiers.

Yet as the endgame neared, many members of the international community acted in ways that were dangerously counterproductive. For example, when Gbagbo was hiding and refusing to give up power, one can think of few statements more unhelpful than the declaration by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, that no one in Côte d’Ivoire could receive amnesty from war crimes prosecution. With one sentence, Moreno-Ocampo ensured that Gbagbo would reject any negotiated solution and instead fight to the end.

Similarly, France’s decision to send its own attack helicopters to accompany those from the United Nations in raids to destroy Gbagbo’s weaponry in Abidjan was equally misguided. UN forces had a clear mandate to act from UN Security Council Resolution 1975; France on its own may or may not have had the same mandate, depending on how one reads Points 6 and 7 of the resolution. This is a legal question that Russia — concerned, as usual, that the Security Council not breach state sovereignty — says it is investigating. Such open and direct French participation in the attack directly played into the rhetoric of the Gbagbo regime, which long portrayed the Ivorian conflict as a proxy war waged by the French to reassert neocolonial control over Côte d’Ivoire.

Wise words from Mike McGovern, writing in Foreign Affairs. See the full article.

His book on war in Cote d’Ivoire should be coming out soon.

One Response

  1. “With one sentence, Moreno-Ocampo ensured that Gbagbo would reject any negotiated solution and instead fight to the end.”

    Except that he didn’t fight to the end… in the end he surrendered. And maybe a lot of people who might have fought with him, abandoned him. I’m not sure how glib one should be about the ICC. Or how consequentialist when discussing fundamental issues of justice. Would McGovern have liked Ocampo to have said instead, “Of course if Mr. Gabgbo’s forces can murder a sufficient number of people in the next two weeks, we will offer him amnesty from prosecution so that he won’t murder any more people. And since we don’t want those people to be murdered, a strong serious statement that he will fight until the end is enough for us to grant him an amnesty right away. And we will make it future-active, covering all crimes committed in the future, so that he can feel extra safe. And we also have asked Mo Ibrahim to give him the $1 m prize, to get him restarted on civilian life.”

    Since I am unlikely ever to be a dictator, and have a lot of sympathy for civilians living under dictatorship and fighting for freedom, and for families with relatives killed by dictators, I would rather have as a basic principle that there is no amnesty for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and then breach it as a last recourse, rather than start from the position that prosecution will only happen or be initiated once the perpetrator is no longer in power. And I would like a prosecutor to say that 12 times a year, thank you very much, and also every time a journalists asks him or her (shout out to Bensouda!).

    What world would McGovern rather live in? If he is basing his choice on an evidentiary consequentialism, how would he know the counterfactual? Randomized years of prosecutorial absence of vigilance? If someone came up with a clever such study, would he then also tally up some metric of value of lives saved? Would the pain of torture weigh in?

    Finally, does McGovern really think that if the U.S. and Fracne had guaranteed amnesty, they couldn’t have figured out how to assure Gbagbo he would not be tried at The Hague? For heaven’s sake, today’s New York Times headline on Qaddafi and Libya says exactly that. There is always an out from prosecution if the big powers want it. Our job as citizens is to make that less and less likely so even big powers can’t be immune, and their agents who order waterboarding and torture and hire mercenaries to kill civilians have to be accountable.

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