Documentary Focuses on Rape in Côte d’Ivoire During Civil War

by Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire – In a new documentary, Le Crime Invisible The Invisible Crime“, Etelle Higonnet and Raynald Lellouche depict the sexual violence that occurred between 2002 and 2007 during the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire.  The film was released in French on May 18, 2011, and its English premier will take place in the upcoming months.

Adele, victim of rape, with her child and sisters.  (Photo courtesy of AfricaMix).
Adele, victim of rape, with her child and sisters. (Photo Courtesy of AfricaMix).

As tensions in Côte d’Ivoire rise after Laurent Gvbagbo’s capture in April 2011, this film has become increasingly relevant.  After the 2010 election, violence sparked, and women were the first victims of the dispute between the Alassane Ouattara, the UN-certified winner, and Gbagbo, who refused to leave power.

Rape is commonly used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the world.  During the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, estimates show that one in ten women were raped.  Throughout the five year conflict, tens of thousands of women became victims of rape regardless of economic status, religious belief, or ethnic affiliation.  Author Isabelle Hanne observes after the rape, the women struggle with a cruel punishment: “for the rape and pain, just loneliness, a child born of rape, a husband who denies.”  She continues “because they are denied justice and care, locked in their trauma, these women are also invisible”.

Twelve female journalists worked on The Invisible Crime to give voices to the victims of rape: Aline, Marianne, Aminata, Helen and Rose.  After being raped by the rebels in front of her parents, Aline fled to Liberia.  Marianne feared contracting HIV after she was a sex slave by her torturers.  Africamix, Le Monde Newspaper’s Africa blog, commented: “[the women] all chose to speak on camera, openly, despite the shame, pain, fear.  Compared to other countries such as Guatemala, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Iraq, where sexual violence is used in wartime, the response to the sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire is alarmingly silent.  The journalists worked on this documentary to highlight the need for information and respect for human life.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on June 19, 2008, that declared rape constitutes a war crime.  In 2007, China, Russia, and South Africa each blocked a similar resolution.  Higonnet comments on their stance by saying: “These three countries have justified their position by citing the risk of further inflaming the region. But how to make peace without justice and transparency? I would like the media coverage of [The Invisible Crime] UN to publish this report, but also to investigate the sponsors of these rapes.”

In order for the film to be suitable for a wide audience, more severe and violent accounts were removed.  The film is also in French for the viewing of Côte d’Ivoirians and residents of francophone countries.  Finally, Higonnet adds “We must break the silence and confront the political elites, legal, media to this reality.”

For more information, please see:
Sencontinent – Documentary – 10 Years of “Invisible Crime”, these women raped in Côte d’Ivoire – 19 May 2011
Liberation – “The Invisible Crime”, a blindness Ivorian – 18 May 2011
Newen Content – “The Invisible Crime”, May 18, 8:40pm on Planet (CAPA) – 18 May 2011
AfricaMix – Ivorian women victims of “crimes invisible” unpunished – 17 May 2011
Foreign Policy Blogs – War Crimes Against Women and Children – 21 June 2008

Author: Impunity Watch Archive