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  • Nicoletta Fagiolo

OPEN LETTER ADDRESSED TO HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS THE VATICAN

CALL TO TAKE ACTION NOW SO AS TO PREVENT THE RISK OF SERIOUS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND OF A CIVIL WAR IN COTE D’IVOIRE IN OCTOBER 2020 FOLLOWING THE APPEAL OF THE CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF THE IVORY COAST (CECCI)

SIGNED BY THE LEADERS OF IVOIRIAN-ITALIAN AND FRIENDS OF CÔTE D’IVOIRE PLATFORM

BRESCIA, February 1st2020

HOLY FATHER, WE CALL UPON YOU TO HELP SAVE IVORY COAST

Holy Father, From November 28th 2010 until April 11th 2011, Ivory Coast and Ivorians experienced one of the most serious and deadly post-electoral crises in the world, with more than three thousand (3000) deaths officially declared, sixteen thousand (16,000) according to more recent sources not made public.

Responsibility for this crisis was largely attributed to Laurent Gbagbo, President of the Republic in office at the time of the events, who was accused of losing the elections and of not resigning. Yet Gbagbo was declared the winner of the 2010 elections by the Constitutional Court and at the time peacefully asked for a recount of the votes, a recount rejected by the UN and other mediators of the crisis.

Consequently President Laurent GBAGBO and the Republican armed forces of the Ivory Coast, its national army, was militarily attacked by elements of the former Ivorian rebellion fighting for Alassane D. OUATTARA. The country had to defend itself, defensive actions that now also corroborated by the written decision of the Judges of the International Criminal Court of 16 July 2019.

With the active intervention of the international community, in particular the French army, President GBAGBO was overthrown and captured on 11 April 2011 and transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague in November 2011, accused of having committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

On January 15, 2019, after eight years of legal proceedings, Laurent GBAGBO and Charles BLE GOUDE, his former youth minister, were acquitted of all charges.

Instead of being released immediately, as the majority judges Trinidadian Judge Geoffrey A. Henderson and Italian Judge Cuno Tarfusser required so as to respect personal freedom and human rights - were instead released under restrictive conditions, another injustice - imposed by the ICC Court of Appeal, pending a possible appeal by the Prosecutor.

Despite the vacuity of evidence highlighted by the ICC Judges in their 1,100 pages acquittal decision of 16 July 2019 and the fact that the ICC trial stopped in the middle (it is a no case to answer) and thus even before hearing the witnesses of the defence, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda appealed this decision on 16 September 2019, not fearing ridicule and departing from all legal logic, as some lawyers and law professors have specified. Bensouda claims a judicial error mainly because the decision was taken first orally and only later in writing, therefore not recognizing the humanitarian and right to personal freedom that was being breached, as the Judges emphasized in their oral decision.

Also noteworthy are the 2017 Ocampo leaks (from the name of the Prosecutor at the time, Louis Moreno Ocampo) which revealed very incriminating emails for France and Ocampo. The leaks highlight that hours before Gbagbo's arrest on April 11, 2011 and five months before the investigation was opened at the International Criminal Court, Ocampo was already writing to twenty French diplomats on how to bring Gbagbo to the ICC, exercising a clear abuse of office.

From 11 April 2011 to today, President Alassane OUATTARA, instead of engaging in a necessary national reconciliation process, rules Ivory Coast with a strong hand, in a context of settling accounts, witch hunts, arbitrary arrests and incarcerations, targeting activists and supporters of the Ivorian Popular Front, the defeated camp, and other opponents.

Despite this inhumane politics put in place as soon as he came to power through the use of violence, on 16 November 2012 your illustrious predecessor, Pope BENEDICT XVI, granted an audience to OUATTARA and his wide Dominique on an official visit to the Vatican, without raising concerns on the severe human rights conditions the country is suffering.

Fortunately, on 7 August 2018, for the 58th anniversary of the independence of Ivory Coast, Ouattara finally yielded to multiple international criticisms and granted amnesty to eight hundred (800) political prisoners, including the former first lady Simone EHIVET-GBAGBO. Simone EHIVET-GBAGBO had already been acquitted in Ivory Coast, yet was sentenced to 20 years prison in yet another trial against her. Instead the soldiers who faithfully defended the republic during the crisis continue to be imprisoned in Abidjan's military detention center.

To date, there are still around fifty political prisoners in Ivory Coast and arbitrary arrests continue unabated.

Migratory flows by sea since 2011 have seen Ivorians among the main nationalities of people escaping their home country, with an average arrival of 10,000 people per year only in Italy.

Holy Father,

One could have said that all this is merely raking up the past and that the Ivorian people, who deeply aspire to achieve reconciliation and peace, should rather be concerned with writing new pages in the history of this great and beautiful country that is Ivory Coast.

Yet unfortunately the current socio-political situation of the country, a few months before the presidential election of October 2020, in which Alassane OUATTARA can no longer, according to the Ivorian Constitution, take part, raises real security concerns, as much - if not more - than during the presidential election of 2010.

It suffices to cite the case of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), which is the subject of a political conflict, which was brought before the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.

In addition, there are cases of lawfare, namely the use or instrumentalization of the Ivorian justice system to disqualify valid candidates who are opponents of the Ouattara power/government:

1/ Former President Laurent GBAGBO, natural candidate for his party the FPI, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years of imprisonment on 18 Thursday January 2019, three days after being acquitted at the ICC. In addition, he is currently enduring endless manoeuvers to prevent him from returning to Ivory Coast.

2/ The former Minister of Youth Charles BLE GOUDE, also acquitted by the ICC and natural candidate of his party, the COJEP, has also just been sentenced in absentia, on 31 December 2019, for 20 YEARS imprisonment and 10 years of deprivation of his civil rights. Meanwhile the Abidjan regime is also preventing him from returning to his country.

3/ The former Prime Minister and ex-president of the National Assembly of Cote d’Ivoire, Guillaume SORO Kigbafori, publicly declared candidate in the presidential election of October 2020, is currently targeted by an international arrest warrant issued on 23 December 2019. This prevents him also from returning to Abidjan. In addition, the Ouattara regime is preparing to try him and also condemn him in absentia.

4 / The ex-President Henri Konan BEDIE, potential candidate of his party the PDCI-RDA, is also currently a target of Alassane OUATTARA. OUATTARA asserts that he wishes to modify the Constitution by the end of March 2020.

For all these reasons mentioned above, which are fuelling the pre-electoral crisis and crystallising political tensions in Ivory Coast, we have deemed it necessary to call upon, via this URGENT MESSAGE, His Holiness Pope FRANCIS, in order to warn the entire world about another tragedy in looming as the Ivorian October 2020 presidential elections come closer.

Because, for us, it would be cynical and inhumane on the part of the international community to turn a blind eye today and try to remedy the situation only after many lives have been lost.

HOLY FATHER, WHILE THERE IS STILL TIME, PLEASE URGENTLY RESCUE IVORY COAST...

Indeed, despite the false assurances of the Ivorian Head of State and his government, who claim ‘‘that nothing will happen during the election of 2020’’, the Archbishops and Bishops of Côte d'Ivoire, these illustrious Vatican ambassadors, have instead taken the full measure of the gravity of the Ivorian socio-political situation. On the occasion of the 114th Assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Côte d'Ivoire (CECCI), held from 13-19 January 2020 at the Notre Dame du Rosaire centre in Lataha, Korhogo, a impartial, courageous and audacious message of alert was delivered to the local political actors and the wider world REQUESTING TRANSPARENT, FAIR AND OPEN ELECTIONS, SO AS TO ACHIEVE RECONCILIATION AND PEACE IN Ivory Coast.

These Archbishops and Bishops of Ivory Coast insisted in their message on the following four conditions which political actors, especially the rulers of the country, must observe so as to guarantee peaceful presidential election:

‘‘The first condition to be observed in the preparation of these elections must be reconciliation. This reconciliation presupposes, even demands, the return of all refugees with guarantees of security and reintegration, the release of all political prisoners, without exception, and the lifting of remaining asset freezes. (...)

The second condition is that of promoting social understanding and consent, in order to meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of all socio-political actors and informed opinions of the international community.

The third condition is the need to establish and consolidate the rule of law, which implies respect for the Constitution, so that no one can manipulate the people, texts or institutions that will be involved in the electoral process. Furthermore, the executive branch must act in such a way as to guarantee full independence to individuals and institutions, in particular to the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI).

The fourth condition, which is a logical consequence of an independent CEI, is that of an open presidential election, which guarantees equal opportunities for all candidates wishing to compete. This would be a valid stance for avoiding exclusion. ’’

Beyond this important 17 January 2020 declaration, the Archbishop of Abidjan, Monsignor Jean Pierre KUTWA sent a correspondence to the Parish Priests of the Archdiocese of Abidjan authorising the organisation of a major protest-march to ‘‘raise awareness for peace and pray for peaceful elections in Ivory Coast”.

Following violent attacks on social media, by malicious people, who instigated violence against the Christian rally, the march was canceled to avoid accidents, and instead on 15 February a day of prayer will he held at the Cathedral of San Paolo in the Abidjan plateau.

Holy Father,

Faced with such an alarming situation, with all the ingredients in place for yet another serious post-electoral crisis in the making in Ivory Coast, the Archbishops and Bishops felt the need for this call for responsibility on the part of political actors. What should be done to avoid the worst imaginable outcome?

What can the Catholic Church do more than this beautiful Message and this great prayer ceremony, in order to avoid another tragedy for the poor Ivorian population, GOD’s creatures, which only want to live peacefully in their country? What can His Holiness Pope FRANCIS, whose stance and borrowed words of divine Truth, Justice and Mercy, edify and reassure mankind so much since his brilliant election to the Vatican, undertake? What can you do to save Ivory Coast from the worst scenario?

FOR OUR PART, with the encouragement of the Vatican the world community should mobilize. It could organise, under the arbitration of the Pope, an international Conference on the pre-electoral situation prevailing in Ivory Coast in order to bring together all the Ivorian political actors and calm the socio-political climate. The Pope would hence be actively involved in helping the Ivorians organize fair, transparent and open presidential elections,

IN THIS WAY POPE FRANCIS WILL SAVE HUMAN LIVES AND PRESERVE IVORIANS AND IVORY COAST FROM THE WORST CONSEQUENCES OF CORRUPT POLITICAL MANIPULATION.

Holy Father,

We are therefore counting on you! The people of Ivory Coast and Africa are counting on you!

MAY GOD DAILY SUSTAIN YOUR HEALTH THROUGHOUT THIS YEAR 2020, AND HIS SON JESUS CHRIST ALWAYS INSPIRE YOU…

Brescia, ITALY, Saturday 1 February 2020

The authors of this urgent message are the leaders of the Platform called Ivorian-Italian Leaders, which brings together actors of civil society organisations and political parties whose representatives have been residing in Italy for several years.

In this initiative the Ivorian Leaders are supported and accompanied by Friends of the Platform and Côte d'Ivoire Italian friends.

THE LEADERS OF THE PLATFORM OF IVORIANS IN ITALY (FIDHOP) Ivorian Foundation for Democracy, Human Rights and Political Life

COTE D'IVOIRE-FREEDOM OF SPEECH THE DAUGHTERS OF MARIE KORÊ

THE PATRIOTS OF BRESCIA + ZATCHEDA

Collective of Ivorians Wê from Italy (CIWIT)

Pan African Congress of Young Patriots (COJEP)

UNG : Union of New Generations

FPI : Ivorian Popular Front

FRIENDS OF THE PLATFORM AND OF CÔTE D’IVOIRE PDCI : Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire

NICOLETTA FAGIOLO Independent Reporter

PAOLO SANNELLA Ex Ambassador of Italy and President Center for Relations with Africa (CRA-SGI)


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