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Côte d'Ivoire: Human Rights Reports

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 28, 2011 (110228)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The political stalemate resulting from the elections has been characterized by the use of excessive force by supporters of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, including elements of the security forces loyal to him, to repress public demonstrations, harassment and intimidation, incitement to ethnic and political violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings." - Report by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, February 2011

There may be many uncertainties about what the international community should be to avert the escalation of violence in the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as debate about the background causes and the wisdom of elections as means of resolving conflict in that country. But there can be no reasonable doubt that the balance of blame for human rights abuses lies with the forces of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave office after losing the second round of presidential elections in November 2010.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains one of the latest reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as the summary from the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. These reports, as well as reports from Amnesty International, also note some abuses committed by supporters of election victor Alassane Ouattara, as well as in inter-communal clashes by supporters of both sides. But they attribute the majority of the violence to politically organized actions by state security forces and allied militia.

Additional reports on the human rights situation from Human Rights Watch, which follows the situation closely, can be found at http://www.hrw.org/africa/cote-divoire Reports from Amnesty International are at http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/cote-divoire

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/ci1102b.php), but not sent out by e-mail, contains an open letter from scholars on the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, an article by Human Rights Watch South Africa director criticizing the role of South African diplomacy in undermining international pressure, and a wide range of annotated links to other sources on the election, different views of the crisis, and background analyses.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Côte d'Ivoire, as well as links to other background sources, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/country/cotedivoire.php

For earlier background links, see particularly
http://www.africafocus.org/docs03ej/ci0301b.php

For current news, see http://allafrica.com/cotedivoire/

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For more frequent updates, including recent links on Libya, Equatorial Guinea, and Zimbabwe, visit AfricaFocus Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/AfricaFocus/101867576407 [click "like" to have the updates appear on your Facebook feed]

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Côte d'Ivoire: Strong AU Action Needed to Prevent Escalation Into Large-Scale Conflict

23 February 2011

Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

http://www.hrw.org

press release

Dakar -- The African Union delegation tasked with resolving the political crisis in Côte d'Ivoire should work to end gross violations of human rights by forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo, Human Rights Watch said today.

The delegation left the country on February 23, 2011, with plans to issue their recommendations in the coming days.

Gbagbo has refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, whom international observers have certified as credibly having won the November 2010 presidential election. Gbagbo's forces have targeted real and perceived supporters of Ouattara, using excessive and often lethal force against largely peaceful demonstrators since early December, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has documented the killing by Gbagbo's security forces of at least 11 people since February 19, including demonstrators and passers-by, as well as the abduction and killing of wounded people taken from an Abidjan hospital, and intimidation, harassment, and abuse by armed militiamen. Killings of Gbabgo's forces in pro-Ouattara neighborhoods also have been reported in recent days. Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern that the conflict could escalate if a quick solution is not found.

"As the African Union panel met in Abidjan, the bloodshed continued," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch." These leaders need to step in to find a just and accountable way out of this stand-off before the violence gets any worse."

The African Union's (AU) Peace and Security Council asked five African presidents to work to break the deadlock. The presidents of South Africa, Chad, Mauritania and Tanzania arrived in Abidjan on February 21, while the fifth, from Burkina Faso, was prevented from participating in the talks because of threats from Gbagbo supporters. Victor Gbeho, the president of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), expressed concern on February 23 that the AU panel went ahead with its Abidjan visit without the entire delegation. Political and youth leaders in Ouattara's coalition have made clear that demonstrations will continue if the AU panel decision does not result in Gbagbo stepping down.

In late January, an in-depth investigation by Human Rights Watch into violations in the commercial capital, Abidjan, revealed an often-organized campaign of violence by Gbagbo's security forces targeting members of Ouattara's political coalition, ethnic groups from northern Côte d'Ivoire, Muslims, and immigrants from neighboring West African countries.

Human Rights Watch research shows new violations in recent weeks, with reports of the security forces firing lethal weapons - including live ammunition, fragmentation grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades - into crowds of people who continue to call on Gbagbo to concede his loss to Ouattara.

In a particularly egregious case, security forces abducted perceived and actual Ouattara supporters from a hospital, where they were receiving treatment for bullet wounds. Family members later found the bodies of several of them in local morgues, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. At least one immigrant from Burkina Faso was slashed with a machete at a makeshift militia checkpoint in the Port Bouët neighborhood.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the apparent killing of at least three members of pro-Gbagbo security forces. On February 8, three bodies with their throats slit were found in the streets of Abobo PK-18, an Abidjan neighborhood that is an Ouattara stronghold. Another body of a person dressed in military uniform who apparently had been killed in a similar fashion was found during the night of February 13. A local journalist, speaking to Human Rights Watch on the condition of anonymity, confirmed reports of the three Abobo killings and identified one of the deceased as Chief Dago Séri, who serves with Gbagbo's Republican Guard.

Other sources alleged that the attackers of the pro-Gbagbo officers were youth members of Ouattara's political coalition, the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), and armed combatants from the Forces Nouvelles ("New Forces," or FN), the longtime rebel army previously under the control of the recently named prime minister for Ouattara, Guillaume Soro. Forces Nouvelles has controlled the northern half of the country since the 2002-2003 civil war.

General Staff Colonel Hilaire Babri Gohourou, spokesperson for the Security and Defense Forces (FDS) loyal to Gbagbo, acknowledged on the national television channel the death of three military personnel since February 7, two in Abobo and one in Du‚kou‚ in western C“te d'Ivoire.

Numerous Ivorians and Liberians, including former combatants, told Human Rights Watch that groups on both sides of the current divide have been recruiting young men and remobilizing others for use in a much-feared resumption of hostilities. Credible evidence indicates that Abidjan alone is teeming with hundreds of new recruits, including pro-Gbagbo militiamen being trained in the Yopougon, Abobo, and Port Bouët neighborhoods. The Forces Nouvelles are also recruiting in Abidjan.

The conflict could easily spread to the surrounding region, as Human Rights Watch has documented continued recruitment in Liberia, including former fighters from the bloody Liberian civil war, by security forces loyal to Gbagbo.

Human Rights Watch has called on Gbagbo to make clear immediately that the continued use of violence by his forces against Ouattara supporters and others will not be tolerated. Gbagbo's incumbent government also needs to recognize people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, Human Rights Watch said. And both sides should direct their armed forces to exercise maximum restraint. Human Rights Watch reminded armed groups that they could be held responsible for war crimes and any other grave violations of human rights if hostilities resume.

"To prevent a return to a civil war, cooler heads need to prevail on both sides of the divide," Bekele said. "At the very least, the visiting African Union delegation needs to call for an end to the current abuses and the incitement to violence by all sides."

Excessive Use of Force, Illegal Detention

On February 21 in the Koumassi neighborhood, three witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces fired at least two rocket-propelled grenades directly into a crowd of over 100 demonstrators, killing at least four and wounding several others. Several witnesses said that pro-Gbagbo security forces, including the Command Center for Operations and Security (CECOS), an elite gendarme unit, fired live rounds and tossed fragmentation grenades into the crowd.

One demonstrator said, "First they shot at us, and then they fired rockets directly into the crowd. I saw several dead, including one Malian man whose arm was completely severed. His intestines were completely outside his body."

In Treichville, around 9 a.m. the same day, troops from the Republican Guard, an elite unit closely linked to Gbagbo, arrived in a convoy of cargo trucks and opened fire on demonstrators congregated at the intersections of Avenue 16 and Rues 17 and 21. One witness told Human Rights Watch, "They came and opened fire with live ammunition immediately. A youth not far from me took a gunshot straight to his head; it was as if part of his face was blown off. He was one of at least two killed that I saw with my own eyes."

Human Rights Watch has also confirmed previous reports of at least 5 people killed when security forces opened fire in the neighborhood of Abobo on February 19 and 20.

Human Rights Watch called on security forces to comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which state that, in dispersing assemblies, "law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary."

Firing live ammunition, fragmentation grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades into crowds and fleeing protestors clearly violates these requirements, and security forces that continue to engage in such behavior should be brought to account, Human Rights Watch said. Commanding officers, including the heads of the Republican Guard and CECOS - elite units that have been continuously implicated in grave human rights abuses during the post-election period - should likewise be put on notice for failing to take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

More than 20 demonstrators were also arrested and detained on February 21. Human Rights Watch called on the security forces to release them immediately or bring charges against them.

Hospital Abductions

Around 10 a.m. on February 8, armed soldiers in green camouflage arrived in a convoy of military trucks and entered Houphouët-Boigny hospital in Abobo neighborhood. At least 17 wounded people had been taken there after security forces opened fire on protesters the day before, killing several. Most of the 17 had gunshot wounds and were largely unable to move, witnesses told by Human Rights Watch.

One witness present at the hospital heard the military forces say, "You are all rebels - let's go, get in," as they forced an unknown number of the wounded into the trucks.

Family members immediately learned of the situation and visited military and police sites throughout the city trying to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones. One family member interviewed by Human Rights Watch found the body of her son at the Anyama morgue on February 11.

According to credible reports, two other family members found deceased victims at the Abidjan military hospital. The exact total of those abducted and the number of dead remain unknown.

Some protesters did appear to have engaged in aggressive behavior at the local police station on February 7, but the threats in no way justified extrajudicial killings, the excessive use of force, or arbitrary arrests, Human Rights Watch said.

"To abduct wounded persons during the light of day from a hospital, a place which should always be a refuge, demonstrates the brazenness and complete impunity with which Gbagbo's security forces are operating," Bekele said. "The wounded will now be terrified to seek treatment, further endangering lives during these difficult times."

Growing Recruitment, Concerns of Armed Conflict

Numerous Ivorian residents and Liberian former combatants interviewed by Human Rights Watch described recent waves of recruitment of youths to be deployed in the event hostilities resume between forces loyal to Gbagbo and those allied with the Forces Nouvelles. Ivorians from the Abidjan neighborhoods of Yopougon, Abobo, and Port Bouët, as well as those who had visited the political capital, Youmoussoukro, and the far western town of Du‚kou‚, where some of the fiercest fighting took place during the civil war, described seeing hundreds of young men in military training in schools, university housing units, and military camps. The training was usually being conducted by members of the Ivorian security forces.

Several residents from the Port Bouët neighborhood described being regularly intimidated and harassed by a group of about 150 youths who form part of an armed militia based in a university dormitory there. They described how the youths, many armed with pistols, automatic weapons, and machetes, regularly harass, threaten, and at times attack members of the West African diaspora who live there.

One witness told Human Rights Watch, "I see them running through every morning and afternoon, guarded by a few with guns in front and behind." He had provided first aid to a neighbor from Burkina Faso who had been attacked and slashed with machetes by the group on February 19. The witness said the militiamen often threaten to attack and kill the residents there if Gbagbo is ever forced from office. Others said they complained to the police twice about the intimidation but were told, "This is a political matter; there is nothing we can do."

Several Liberians who had fought in Liberia's armed conflict, which ended in 2003, told Human Rights Watch they had been approached and asked if they wanted to fight alongside troops loyal to Gbagbo. The recruitment documented by Human Rights Watch took place in the Liberian cities of Monrovia, Zwedru, and Buchanan.

On the other side, pro-Ouattara militants are increasingly arming themselves and fighting back against security forces, particularly in Abobo. Credible reports also indicate that the Forces Nouvelles have re-integrated almost all soldiers that were previously demobilized. Research by Human Rights Watch has also shown that some Forces Nouvelles soldiers have engaged in intimidation and violence against Gbagbo supporters in the north, though not on the scale of the violence committed by pro-Gbagbo forces in Abidjan.

Commanding officers on both sides of the military divide need to ensure that they have effective command and control over their subordinates and should train them to adhere to the laws of war and international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.


United Nations General Assembly

Human Rights Council

Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Côte d'Ivoire

Draft: 15 February, 2011

[Summary only. For the full report, with extensive documentation, see the news story and link to the report at
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37608]

Summary

  1. This report is submitted pursuant to Resolution S-14/1 of the Human Rights Council (HRC) inviting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report on the abuses and violations of human rights in Côte d'Ivoire in relation to the conclusion of the 2010 presidential elections. The report covers events up to 31 January 2011.

  2. The long-awaited presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire took place on 31 October and 28 November 2010 after having been postponed six times since 2005. While the first round was conducted on 31 October in a peaceful atmosphere and provided hope for the end of the long-running political and military crisis in the country, the run-off round held on 28 November was marred by a radicalization of political rhetoric and speech that progressively drove the country into turmoil with severe consequences for the overall human rights situation. Following the announcement of divergent results by the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Council, elected President Ouattara formed a government, while Mr. Gbagbo has tried to hang on to power and also appointed a "government" which is not recognized by the international community.

  3. The imposition of a night-time curfew on the eve of the run-off round, attempts to prevent members of the dioula and baoulé ethnic communities from voting, significant irregularities and acts of intimidation witnessed in the Centre-North-East zone controlled by the Forces nouvelles, the violent repression by law enforcement officers of a public demonstration organized by the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) on 16 December, 2010 and the subsequent RHDP call for civil disobedience on 18 January 2011, progressively contributed to the deterioration of the situation in the country. This unprecedented situation was exacerbated by the recruitment and use of youth groups, militias and alleged mercenaries which resulted in a number of serious human rights violations, some of which reportedly were ethnically and politically motivated and produced victims in both sides, but mainly among supporters of the RHDP.

  4. The state-owned television corporation, the Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), has been disseminating xenophobic messages inciting hatred and violence, and promoting religious and ethnic division between the north and the south. The volatile political situation and worsening human rights situation led to the internal and cross-border displacement of thousands of Ivorians internally and in neighboring countries, and negatively impacted on the economic, social and cultural rights of the population.

  5. The Gbagbo camp repeatedly obstructed UNOCI and impeded its freedom of movement, including attempts made by the Human Rights Division to investigate allegations about mass graves in Anyama (Abidjan), Lakota (near Divo) and Issia (near Daloa) and other serious human rights violations. These obstructions prevented UNOCI from fully discharging its protection of civilians mandate as prescribed under Security Council resolutions 1894 (2009) and 1933 (2010).

  6. The deteriorating human rights situation in Côte d'Ivoire was strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The High Commissioner wrote individually to Mr. Laurent Gbagbo and three top Military Commanders to remind them of their obligation to protect civilians and of their personal accountability for human rights abuses and infringements of international humanitarian law committed by elements of the security forces placed under their command and control. Several UN experts and Special Procedures also mandate holders voiced their concern over gross human rights violations committed in the country.

  7. With the political stalemate now going into the third month, the human rights situation in Côte d'Ivoire is becoming more precarious. Almost three hundred people have been confirmed killed since the beginning of the crisis and there are continuing reports of abductions, illegal detention and attacks against civilians. More than 35,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere, including in neighboring countries. There are reports of thousands of youth being forcibly recruited and armed, presumably in preparation for violent conflict. The propagation of hatred and violence through the media remains a serious concern. Disruptions to the means of livelihood, including through the impact of the operation "ghost country" which calls for a nation-wide civil disobedience and work stoppage, have severely limited access to education and basic economic and social rights. Meanwhile, the obstruction of UNOCI has limited its ability to verify the full extent and scale of the human rights violations across the country.


Introduction

  1. This report is submitted pursuant to resolution S-14/1 of the Human Rights Council (HRC) inviting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report on the abuses and violations of human rights in Côte d'Ivoire in relation to the conclusion of the 2010 presidential elections. The report covers the period up to 31 January 2011.

  2. On 23 December 2011, the HRC held a Special Session during which it reviewed the human rights situation in Côte d'Ivoire following the proclamation of the results of the second round of the presidential elections on 28 November 2010. The political stalemate resulting from the elections has been characterized by the use of excessive force by supporters of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, including elements of the security forces loyal to him, to repress public demonstrations, harassment and intimidation, incitement to ethnic and political violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Some acts of harassment, assault, destruction, of property and looting were reportedly committed by supporters of President Ouattara during and after the elections. Thousands of people were also forcefully displaced within the country inside Côte d'Ivoire and into neighboring countries. Despite repeated calls from the international community to allow free movements and access to civilians, the security forces and youth groups allied to Mr. Gbagbo obstructed the movement of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI).

...


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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