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Sexual violence in war time is a grave and dehumanizing act. From ancient wars to modern conflicts, as populations suffer the pang of guns, women and other vulnerable groups endure untold additional harms. These harms include, but are not limited to sexual violence, manifesting as coerced undressing, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, involuntary abortion, compulsory sterilization and undesirable prostitution.  They have left behind indelible mental and physical scars on the victims thereby violating their fundamental human rights. Côte d’Ivoire could not escape this sad reality during the country’s armed conflicts as many women were subjected to sexual atrocities. International Jurisprudence and United Nations Resolutions prescribed that such crimes vest on victims the right to rehabilitation. Therefore, this research examined the effectiveness of the rehabilitative measures put in place for the female victims of sexual violence in the Ivorian Western region armed conflicts from 2002 to 2012.

 The study adopted a qualitative design employing semi-structured interviews guide to collect information from victims, witnesses and government officials of Western Côte d’Ivoire. Purposive sampling and snowball techniques were adopted in the selection of respondents facilitated by the officials of the Ivorian Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Data were content-analyzed and presented thematically with victimology, inevitability of sexual violence in armed conflicts and feminism serving as theoretical frameworks.

The findings showed that the modus operandi of the Ivorian fighters in the perpetration of sexual violence ranged from forced separation of couples to gang rape in village rape houses, from roadblock rapes to sacrificial rapes. The victims who included infants, teenagers, and old women were traumatized, polyvictimized and revictimized. Many of them vented their feelings through anger, self-defense, isolation and suicide. Both international and local communities responded to the victims’ plight with the Ivoirian Government providing legislative, judicial, administrative and social reparative measures. Yet, these responses were inadequate and fraught with challenges such as the non-implementation of international treaties, flaws in the Ivorian  laws, under-reporting of crimes, poorly conducted investigations, denial  of victims’  rights by the traditional justice system, and lack of access by  some of the victims to the reparative bodies.

The study concluded that the haphazard implementation of rehabilitative programs had left the victims traumatized and ostracized from their families and communities as they are unable to engage in regular community affairs. Thus, the thesis recommended that the United Nations monitor the rule of law in the country. The Executive, through its Ministries of Women Affairs and Defense should ensure that reparative machineries be brought closer to the victims. The Legislature needs to enact laws affirming the UN guidelines for the compensation of victims and the Judiciary should train its personnel to deal appropriately with the sensitive nature of sexual violence. Côte d’Ivoire and the international community need to ensure that the effective rehabilitation of victims is attained.

Keywords: Armed conflicts, Côte d’Ivoire, Sexual Violence, Rehabilitation, Women’s rights.



1.1       Background to the Study

Sexual violence is the most common form of gender violence. It is considered by many societies as a gross violation of women’s rights. Sexual violence perpetrated in times of peace is aggravated in times of violent conflicts.[1] From ancient wars to modern conflicts, the dehumanization and chastisement of a conquered people have included sexual assault against the enemy’s women, and sometimes its men. However, there are more incidents of women subjected to sexual violence in armed conflicts than men. The evil is perpetrated at various levels, macro, meso, and micro.[2] Some eminent scholars, such as Heineman and Vikman, assent that sexual violence is inevitable in all armed conflicts and as soon as war starts, women and girls are targeted.[3]

Wartime Sexual violence against women encompasses various forms such as coerced undressing, forced nudity, rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, unwanted pregnancy, forced marriage, involuntary abortion, compulsory sterilization and undesirable prostitution.[4] Fighters and other individuals use the availability of arms as an “opportunity” during the breakdown of rules and social norms to attack women of all ages and walks of life including babies, girls, and women as old as eighty years.[5]

It has been observed that the effects of these atrocities on the lives of women persist. For victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts, when the guns are silent, their war continues as they struggle with both physical and psychological injuries.[6] Assessing the overwhelming effects of this unbearable situation, Cammaert strongly declared that “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”[7] Similarly, Ban Ki-Moon affirmed that “Violence against women is a crime against humanity, no crime more brutal.”[8]  Thus, national, regional and international bodies are making some efforts to combat the scourge but the perpetration is still visible in almost all conflicts in the world.

It is within this confused state of affairs in conflicts that the Côte D’Ivoire (CI) crisis occurred.  It was ten years of political unrest, escalating inter-ethnic tensions and violence that marred Côte d’Ivoire’s former reputation for stability and threw the country into a number of crises.  There were two waves of armed conflicts, one set off in 2002 and the other, an aftermath of the presidential elections in 2010. Both led to massive population disturbances, displacing about thousands of people on each occasion.[9] During the conflicts, fighters assaulted several women sexually. The worst-hit areas were the western administrative regions of Cavally, Guenon, and Tonpki, that had the highest concentration of arms. It was often referred to as the “Wild West” by Non-governmental Organizations and journalists.[10]  Women endured the hardest of the conflicts with the presence of fighters on all sides including mercenaries from neighboring countries especially Liberia. Usually, women’s fate was either to be killed or to be raped.

According to reports by several international and national NGOs,[11] sexual violence on women trapped in the Ivorian conflict zones was not only unremitting, but became so pervasive and systematic as to have reached dreadful levels of brutality and inhumanity. Higonnet reported that victims spoke of brutal sexual assaults on wives, sisters and daughters, that husbands, brothers and fathers were forced to watch or commit incest. Some were pulled off from transport vehicles and raped en masse. Fighters from both sides had also inserted guns, sticks and other objects into their victims’ genitals. Numerous women were captured and subjected to sexual slavery in rebel camps where they endured different forms of sexual abuse over prolonged periods of time. Resistance to captors was commonly met with awful punishments or death. Some sex slaves, daunted by their captors and other circumstances, felt helpless to escape their life of sexual slavery.[12] Also, the period of active armed conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire is over, however, Human Rights Watch disclosed that there are still cases of sexual violence related to the Ivorian armed conflicts perpetrated by former soldiers, even by peacekeepers.[13]

To address this situation, the Ivorian Government took some legislative and administrative measures. Also, the country adopted a four-year (2008-2012) action plan with regards to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. The UN resolution was the first to address the impact of conflict on women during the conflicts and post conflicts periods. The resolution called on all states to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.[14] Notwithstanding those efforts, it seems that the measures remain mere resolutions leaving a big gap between de jure and de facto. In Cote d’Ivoire, the war may be over for the majority of the population but for the victims of sexual violence there is no difference.[15]

1.2       Statement of the Problem

It is observed that Ivorian women are still struggling with the consequences of the atrocities perpetrated against them. Some victims are even contemplating suicide. They are stigmatized and rejected by spouses and sometimes expelled from their communities. Therefore, victims have on their hearts, more than the scars of their unfortunate past.  Moreover, there are hindrances to the full rehabilitation of the women, categorized as victims of sexual violence in the Western region of Cote d’Ivoire. While it may be easy to attribute the failure of effective rehabilitation to government’s letdown to provide legally responsive measures to the needs of the victims, though there are women’s rights provisions in the Ivorian law, it seems that the enforcement of these laws is ineffective, leaving these women at great risk. Furthermore, according to the UN Security Council report, sexual crimes during the Ivorian conflicts are under-reported and under-investigated.[16] Thus, the magnitude of the ills perpetrated is not fully evaluated.

Also, there is no record of victims pursuing their cases in courts which may be due to the costly legal fees, the ignorance of their own rights, the shame and stigmatization attached to sexual violence.[17] In rare situations, when victims summon courage to speak out, there are other challenges that they face while seeking justice; the prosecutions of sexual violence are slow or inexistent. Thus, victims are of the view that they are forgotten and that sexual violence is a neglected issue in Cote d’Ivoire.[18]   How can these victims, who are waiting for justice see that justice is done, and how can these victims receive adequate rehabilitation for the atrocities committed against them?   Thus, the dilemma of women due to the conflicts that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in which their fundamental human rights were grossly violated and denied. These are the issues that this study seeks to explore in order to offer some recommendations for the justice and effective rehabilitation of the victims of sexual violence in Ivorian wartimes.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

The general objective of the study is to examine the rehabilitative measures put in place for the women whose rights were violated by being subjected to varying forms of sexual violence during the armed conflicts in the Western Cote d’Ivoire. 

The specific objectives are to:

  1. examine the scope of sexual violence in armed conflicts and the extant international legal mechanisms established to address the problem of conflict-related sexual violence;
  2. identify the peculiarities and dynamics of wartime sexual violence committed against women in the Western Region of Cote d’Ivoire;
  3. appraise the trauma of the women and their rights violated during the perpetration of conflict-related sexual violence in the Western Cote d’Ivoire; 
  4. assess the appropriateness of  the legal steps adopted by the intervening bodies to respond to the plight of victims in the Western Cote d’Ivoire.

1.4       Research Questions

The fundamental inquiry of this research is based on the rehabilitative measures put in place for the women whose rights were violated during the perpetration of sexual violence in the Western Cote d’Ivoire’s armed conflicts. This vital interrogation generates the following specific questions:

                  1.            What is the scope of sexual violence in armed conflicts and what are the extant international legal mechanisms established to address the problem of conflict-related sexual violence?

                  2.            What are the peculiarities and dynamics of wartime sexual violence committed against women in the Western region of Cote d’Ivoire?

                  3.            What is the extent of the trauma experienced by women and to what extent were their rights violated through the perpetration of sexual violence during Cote d’Ivoire wartime?

                  4.            How appropriate were the legal steps adopted by the intervening bodies to respond to the plight of victims in the Western Region of Cote d’Ivoire?

1.5      Justification for the Study

Women and girls in the Western Cote d’Ivoire who were sexually violated during the country’s armed conflicts are still waiting for justice. They have not yet received adequate rehabilitation for the atrocities committed against them. Therefore, this thesis seeks to address these issues with the expectation that the Ivorian government and other intervening bodies will initiate and sustain necessary steps to correct the wrongs perpetrated against female gender. This study is significant for the victims to showcase that the world is not blind to their plight.   Moreover, this work is important for the Ivorian government in its enforcement of national laws and fulfillment of her international legal obligations; it can serve as a basis for the government’s drive to establish cases and laws to help victims of sexual abuse in armed conflict. Lastly, it is a tool for further research, a contribution to existing truth-seeking and initiatives for supporting and recognizing conflict-related sexual violence as a woman-rights violation in other conflict areas in the world. 

1.6. Scope of the Study

The study is delineated to the period of armed conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire between the years 2002–2012.  In 2002, the country joined the war zones of West Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone with a failed coup. In 2007, the belligerent parties signed the Ouagadougou political ceasefire agreement, but unfortunately it did not stop the conflict as there were still spots of conflicts throughout the country, the presidential election was postponed six times. Furthermore, in 2010, a disputed election between the current President, Allasane Ouattara and the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, erupted in another rebellion.

During these periods of fights and up to 2012, it was reported that sexual violence was perpetrated against the enemy women and men; nevertheless, women represented the majority of victims. Their fundamental rights were grossly violated therefore, the study focuses on sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in Ivorian conflicts and post-conflicts situation.   The Ivorian region under review is the western part. The zone comprises the “Cavally, Guemon and Tonpki”. The region experienced the most serious sexual abuses that occurred during the war. The area had more perpetrators such as the national armies, the rebels and the mercenaries of the neighboring countries, than the rest of the country. Mixed groups of Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters operating as mercenaries in support of both the Ivorian government and rebel forces were responsible of the prevalent sexual abuses.

The scope of this work, therefore, comprised women whose rights were violated during the perpetration of sexual violence in the 2002-2012 Western Cote d’Ivoire armed conflicts.  However, for a better understanding of the concept of sexual violence in armed conflicts, mentions of the different war zones in the world are made.

1.7       Methodology

In this section, the researcher indicates the research design, the procedure of data collection and the ethical principles followed during the research. 

1.7.1    Research Design

The methodology of this research is qualitative in nature. The research gives a systematic description of wartime sexual violence, how it constitutes women’s rights violation and what can be the best method for the rehabilitation and compensation for the victims.

1.7.2    The Collection of Data

The collection of data is threefold.  First of all, data are gathered using library to get a desk study analysis of available scholarly literature on the circumstances and situations that resorted in the commission of sexual violence in armed conflicts. The library research is based on two sources: the primary source is centered on the International Human Rights Laws and Treaties, the International Humanitarian Laws, the International Criminal Laws, the discourse of the International Jurisprudence and the United Nations Resolutions. The secondary source is based on international and national non- governmental organizations’ reports on one hand and on the other hand, the countries action plans, books, articles, journals, research studies and press releases.

Secondly, the qualitative method was buttressed by semi structured interviews with the victims, witnesses and actors (women groups’ leaders, human rights activists, chiefs of communities and government authorities). The interviews were conducted in the three main areas of the Western region of the country which are   the Cavally, the Guemon, and the Tompki. Some victims and witnesses were selected among the populations of the following towns of the three areas under study: Man, Danané, Toulepleu, Blolequin, Duékoué, and Guiglo.  Lastly, field observation was done during the same period in which the interviews were conducted, with the observer’s role being supplementary to the interviewer’s role.

1.7.3    Ethical Consideration

The interviews were conducted with a victim-based approach in compliance with the ethical standards for research. Care was taken to ensure that victims do not experience further trauma in recounting their experiences and exposing them to physical risks; the researcher took into consideration the safety and security of interviewees before, during and after the discussion. Moreover, the researcher used the “Do No Harm” principle established  by ethical organizations such  as  the” WHO Ethical and safety recommendations for researching, documenting and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies,” the “Babcock University Health Research Ethics Committee”  and  the “International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict guide.”[19] “Do No Harm” principle is established in order to investigate and document information of sexual violence in a way that capitalize on the access to justice for survivors, and reduces, as much as possible, any negative impact the documentation process may have upon them. It requires researchers to be always polite, respectful and attentive. It demands researchers to be especially aware of the cultural expectations.  Thus, in the field, the researcher took particular care not to appear judgmental, disapproving or disbelieving at any point, either verbally, through the use of body language or facial expressions.

Each interview began with an explanation of the purpose of the survey and a request for verbal informed consent to participate in the survey. The participants were informed that the purpose of the investigation is to find out what women go through in war times. In addition, confidentiality of the survey data was protected in several ways. All witnesses and victims were interviewed individually.  Most interviews were generally held in secured locations agreed upon with the informants to ensure safety and alley their fears of reprisal attacks. The interviews were mostly conducted in French since the country under review is a francophone country and the researcher speaks and writes French language fluently. Finally, the findings, (library works, interviews and observations) concerning the country under review were content-analyzed and interpreted in three chapters of this research paper (chapters four, five and six). Conclusions were carefully drawn.  Pragmatic, action-oriented recommendations were put forward to alleviate the sufferings of sexual violence victims in Cote d’Ivoire armed conflicts.

1.8       Operational Definition of Terms

Armed conflicts: The term is used to designate situations of war and crisis. The most authoritative definition of armed conflict is contained in the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) Appeal Chambers decision on jurisdiction in the TADIC: "…An armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between states or protracted armed violence between government authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within the state”. 

Jus in bello is a Latin term which means that actions in war should be just and fair. Jus in bello includes two principles: dissimilarity and proportionality. Dissimilarity between civilians and soldiers, identification of the legitimate targets; proportionality defines how much power could be used.

De facto means a state of affairs that is true in fact. In this case study, it is referred to as the rehabilitation of victims which should be effective in reality.

De jure means a state of affai

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