Abidjan. Ivorian authorities have begun exhuming dozens of mass graves dating back to the country’s 2011 post-election violence.
The exercise started on Thursday as a new report accused Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast’s president, of failing to bring his supporters to justice for crimes they allegedly committed during the conflict.
Justice minister Gnenema Coulibaly presided over the exhumations, observing a moment of silence at the site before digging started at the first grave on the grounds of a mosque in Abidjan’s Yopougon district.
The grave contained the bodies of four men aged 17 to 35, who were killed at the height of the violence in April 2011 while defending the mosque against supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo.
More than 3,000 people died over a period of five months after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in the November 2010 election.
Addressing religious leaders and relatives of the men who died at the mosque, Coulibaly said “the prevailing security situation” during the conflict made proper funerals impossible for many families.
A government census identified 57 graves for exhumation in the commercial capital Abidjan alone, many of which contain multiple bodies.
The graves together are believed to contain more than 400 bodies. The exhumation process will eventually extend throughout the country, Coulibaly said.
Yopougon was a flashpoint during the violence, and Coulibly said 36 of the 57 graves identified in Abidjan were located in the district.
The violence continued in Yopougon for weeks after Gbagbo was arrested from a bunker following military intervention by France, Ivory Coast’s former colonial master, and the UN.
Coulibaly said the exhumations would provide closure to victims’ families while offering valuable information that would help bring perpetrators of the post-election crimes to justice.