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CRSV: First Ivorian Civil War

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The First Ivorian Civil War was a civil war that took place in Cote d’Ivoire. It began with a military rebellion on September 19, 2002, and culminated in a full blown war between President Laurent Gbagbo and his forces against the domestic insurgency led by the Forces nouvelle de Cote d’Ivoire. The roots of the war go back to its colonial past (Clark and Gardinier 1997). After Cote d’Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was the head of state for 33 years. In 1993, after his death, a leadership succession crisis ensued (Custers 2006). A military coup d’etat took place in 1999, followed by a violent dispute over the results of the 2000 presidential elections (McGovern 2008). Three successive regimes that followed all repressed and marginalized the opposition, and outright war broke out on September 19, 2002. The war eventually ended with all relevant parties signing the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement on March 4, 2007. By January 2007, the conflict had displaced nearly 7,50,000 people (UNHCR 2007).

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

There were numerous reports of massacres and human rights violations after the outbreak of violence in Cote d’Ivoire in 2002 (IPS News 2006). Women were targeted by all parties to the conflict, including the government security forces, government-backed militias, and armed opposition groups (Amnesty International 2007). Sexual violence was committed by a variety of rebel groups, as well as by Liberian fighters recruited on both sides of the conflict (Amnesty International 2007). In several instances, women and girls were subject to rape, sexual assault, forced incest, abductions for forced labour, and sexual exploitation in rebel camps (Amnesty International 2007). Between May and July 2005, the UNOCI recorded approximately 200 cases of sexual violence against women and children, of which 41% involved rape (UN Security Council 2007). In his report on children and armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Secretary-General quoted a 2003 UNFPA study, which indicated that 31 per cent of the girls interviewed admitted to having been forced or coerced into non-consensual sexual relations (UN Security Council 2006). According to Amnesty International, “hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and girls have been victims of widespread and, at times, systematic rape and sexual assault committed by combatant forces or by civilians with close ties to these forces” (Amnesty International 2007).

Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence and rape were deliberately deployed as strategic war weapons. Women and girls were targeted for their ethnicity. Government security forces often targeted women for their ethnicity. Women and girls were also targeted with sexual violence on political grounds, for their ideologies and viewpoints, and identities. They were subject to sexual violence as a means of intimidation and torture. Armed rebel groups targeted women and girls with sexual violence to punish them for their roles as human rights defenders, and sometimes for not handing over their money or assets to their attackers. For instance, women and girls of the Burkinabe ethnicity were targeted by rebel groups (Human Rights Watch 2003). In several instances, women and girls were trafficked and abducted toward being trafficked, as Cote d’Ivoire was a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls who were trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation (Human Rights Watch 2003).


1. Amnesty International (15 March 2007) Côte d’Ivoire: Targeting Women: The Forgotten Victims of the Conflict,

2. McGovern, Mike (2008). "International interventions in Côte d'Ivoire: In search of a point of leverage". Accord. 19.

3. UNHCR (2007) Global Appeal 2007: Côte d’Ivoire:

4. Clark, John Frank and Gardinier, David E. (1997). Political Reform in Francophone Africa. Boulder: Westview Press.

5. Custers, Peter (2006). "Globalisation and War in Ivory Coast". Economic and Political Weekly. 41 (19): 1844–1846.

6. Human Rights Watch (August 2003) Côte d’Ivoire: Trapped between Two Wars: Violence Against Civilians in Western Côte d’Ivoire.

7. IPS News (2006). “Droits Côte d’Ivoire: Mettre fin à l’impunité pour éradiquer les violences sexuelles”, Inter Press Service News Agency, 6 October 2006:

8. United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, S/2006/835, 25 October 2006

9. United Nations Security Council, Twelfth progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, S/2007/133, 8 March 2007

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