Geneva (AFP) - Children appear to be the main victims of continued widespread rape in the Ivory Coast, with little done to bring the perpetrators to justice, a UN report warned.
Five years after the Ivory Coast returned to peace, rape remains prevalent in the country, according to the report by the United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) published late Monday, warning that a sample of cases suggested well over half of the victims could be minors.
"Cote d'Ivoire in recent years has recorded significant progress in terms of human rights, but the persistence of rape and impunity towards their perpetrators remain of serious concern and requires urgent action," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement launching the report.
The UN could not provide a clear overview of the number of rape cases in the Ivory Coast, since the country itself did not keep such statistics, according to Sarah de Hemptinne of UNOCI's protection and documentation unit.
But based on a sample of 1,129 documented cases of rape between 2012 and 2015, the UN determined that 66 percent of the victims were children.
And while 90 percent of these cases were subject to an investigation, fewer than 20 percent of them resulted in a conviction, the report found.
All 203 cases that ended in conviction were meanwhile "reclassified" -- "a common practice of judging rape as a lesser offence and for which the sentencing is less severe," the report said, warning that while this might allow more victims to see their rapist sentenced, it "minimises the gravity of rape."
The report also cautioned that the widespread recourse to settlements out of court, especially in cases where the rape victim is a child, which prevents the alleged rapist from ending in prison, also "undoubtedly contributes to the trivialisation of rape and puts the victim in a position of weakness and vulnerability."
In its report, UNOCI urged the Ivorian authorities "to intensify their efforts to prevent and punish rape, a crime that continues to claim many victims in the country."
The Ivory Coast has been buffeted by crisis for the past decade, split by a rebellion in the north and controlled in the south by partisans of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, who ruled from 2000 to 2011.
The unrest culminated when Gbagbo refused to recognise the victory of current President Alassane Ouattara in a 2010 vote, triggering a crisis which cost the lives of more than 3,000 people over five months.