By GEORGE E. CURRY
While the world’s attention is fixed primarily on turmoil in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, thousands of Ivorians are being murdered in fighting that pits supporters of Côte d’Ivoire incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo against challenger Alassane Ouattara. Both men claim to have won the disputed election in a country already torn by a nine-year civil war.
President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Nations have recognized Ouattara as the duly elected president of Côte d’Ivoire, which is French for Ivory Coast. What’s loosely referred to as the international community has accused Gbagbo of assorted human rights violations, including killing some of his political opponents.
Recently, however, the U.N. was forced to acknowledge that both sides have been guilty of killing civilians. Aid workers said that as many as 1,000 people were killed by Ouattara’s forces in Duekoue, a Gbagbo stronghold in western Côte d’Ivoire.
Amid conflicting reports coming out of Abidjan, the commercial capital of the country, it is difficult to know for certain what is going on there. Charles Steele Jr,, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and I visited Abidjan two months ago and were stunned to see how widespread news reports failed to mirror the reality we witnessed on the ground.
One-sided reporting is reflected in reporters, who routinely refer to Gbagbo as the nation’s “strongman” and Ouattara as the “internationally recognized” president. As I have written in this space, few reporters have read the Ivorian constitution that puts into place a two-step process that determines how national leaders are elected.
Under Article 32 and Article 94 of the Ivorian constitution, ballots are tallied and results are announced by the Independent Electoral Commission. The second and less publicized step is the final declaration of winners made by the Constitutional Council, the equivalent of the United States Supreme Court.
In the case of the disputed presidential election, Ouattara was declared the winner of a run-off on Nov. 28, 2010 by the Independent Electoral Commission, a decision that the United States, France, and the European Union cited as the basis of their support for the challenger.
Pierre Sane, the Paris-based former general secretary of Amnesty International, notes that the so-called Independent Electoral Commission is anything but independent. Of the 31 members, 20 are from rebel groups and their political supporters.
“One way or the other, the ‘Independent Commission’ is in point of fact controlled by the opposition,” Sane wrote in an analysis. “Its chairman is a senior member of the opposition coalition,