Côte d'Ivoire: No War, but No Security

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Cote d'Ivoire: No War, but No Security

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 10, 2011 (110610)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Between May 13 and 25, Human Rights Watch interviewed 132 victims and witnesses to violence by both sides during the battle for Abidjan and in the weeks after Gbagbo's arrest. Killings, torture, and inhumane treatment by Ouattara's armed forces continued while a Human Rights Watch researcher was in Abidjan, with clear ethnic targeting during widespread acts of reprisal and intimidation." - Human Rights Watch

In his inaugural speech on May 21, Côte d'Ivoire President Alassane Outtara called for Ivorians to come together and unite. The text and tone of his speech was conciliatory, observers agreed, and earlier in May he called for the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses on all sides, including those by his own troops.

But if his words are to have credibility, observers also agree, his administration must take effective action to halt ethnically-based reprisals that are ongoing. Recent reports by Amnesty International and by Human Rights Watch provide ample evidence not only of killings and other abuses against civilians by both sides during the months of post-election conflict, but also that such action are still continuing. Those international forces that supported the legitimacy of Outtara's election and aided his victory in the post-election conflict have the obligation to demand that his government take responsibility for creating a climate in which it may be possible for Ivorians to respond to his call to come together.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a summary article and excerpts from the latest Human Rights Watch report, published on June 3.

Other relevant recent reports and analyses include:

Amnesty International, May 25,2011
"Both Sides Responsible for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity"

International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House, 1 June 2011
"Reprisals Against Pro-Gbagbo Journalists Continue; Opposition Press Re-Emerges"

Véronique Tadjo, "Of Saviours, God and Domination", May 20, 2011 http://allafrica.com/stories/201105200001.html

Colette Braeckmann, "Ouattara: le discours et la realité" May 22, 2011
http://blog.lesoir.be/colette-braeckman / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/6b2vv85

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Côte d'Ivoire, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/cotedivoire.php


Updates for "Aids Research "Game Changer", May 16, 2011

See my Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary for June 7, 2011 at

Healthgap announcement of victory in getting pledge from world leaders for 16 million on AIDS treatment by 2015

and news coverage of the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS concluding today at
http://www.un.org/en/ga/aidsmeeting2011/ and

[For more frequent updates from AfricaFocus on articles of interest, visit the AfricaFocus Facebook page at


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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Côte d'Ivoire: Hiding Out in Abidjan

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

3 June 2011

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

http://www.irinnews.org /

Dakar - People from ethnic groups seen as pro-Laurent Gbagbo are hiding out, using aliases in public and fearing for their lives, amid attacks by government forces in the main city Abidjan, residents told IRIN.

"It is total and constant insecurity for people from ethnic groups seen as pro-Gbagbo," said a young man calling himself Toupé.

People from allegedly targeted ethnic groups have started using nicknames, "so when we address one another in public we cannot be identified", explained another youth known as Pascal Soro.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 2 June report says forces of President Alassane Ouattara's government have killed scores of real or perceived backers of Gbagbo since the former president was arrested in April.

"The actions President Ouattara takes or fails to take in the coming weeks will define how seriously he takes this cycle of violence," Corinne Dufka, HRW senior West Africa researcher, told IRIN.

Residents of the Yopougon District, from where the government army Forces R&ecute;publicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI) recently chased Gbagbo militia, told IRIN people from many ethnic groups - particularly Bét´ and Guéré - are not safe.

"We thought when FRCI came and forced the militia out, there would be security - it has been exactly the opposite," Toupé said.

Attacks by FRCI are not linked to whether or not one was a Gbagbo militant, residents told IRIN. "It's enough that you have a name from one of these ethnic groups of the west," Toupé, from Yopougon, told IRIN from a neighbourhood where he has been hiding since mid-April. "You're lucky if all you get is a broken arm or leg."

He lived in the largely pro-Gbagbo Sicogi area of Yopougon. "For them [FRCI], if you're a youth and you're from there, you're with the militia - that's it, you're through."

Toupé said he has no news of his wife and one-year-old child, from whom he was separated when they all fled violence.

Reconciliation impossible?

Both Toupé and Pascal Soro said people back in their neighbourhoods, including friends from the Malink´ ethnic group, tell them it is not safe to come back. "For now we've got to stay where no one knows us," Pascal Soro told IRIN.

"We are truly imprisoned in our own country," said Toupé. "We cannot even speak out. State TV gives the impression all is OK and on track towards reconciliation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there is no place for opposition on the state airwaves."

Yopougon residents say reconciliation in the country is impossible in the current environment. "If the new authorities want peace and reconciliation they must put an end to indiscriminate arrests and killings carried out each night on the pretext that the targets are opposition militia," student Valentin Konet told IRIN.

Dufka said FRCI members suspected of abuses must be held accountable. "Initially the hope was that these were isolated acts by undisciplined elements and resulting from the loose and informal way FRCI was thrown together. The fact that high-level officers, who long held prominent posts in the [former antiGbagbo] Forces Nouvelles, are credibly implicated, raises considerable concern."

HRW is calling on the government to put on administrative leave any FRCI members suspected of violations pending investigation.

FRCI and Ouattara communications officers said a new government - announced on 1 June - was just getting installed and officials were not yet ready to comment on the report.

Côte d'Ivoire: Gbagbo Supporters Tortured, Killed in Abidjan
Rampant Reprisals by Pro-Ouattara Forces Mar New Presidency

Human Rights Watch

June 2, 2011

[Excerpts only. For full report see
http://www.hrw.org/africa/cote-divoire / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/3as2fkx]

(Dakar) - Armed forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara have killed at least 149 real or perceived supporters of the former President Laurent Gbagbo since taking control of the commercial capital in mid-April, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. ProGbagbo militiamen killed at least 220 men in the days immediately preceding and following Gbagbo's arrest on April 11, when the nearly four-month conflict drew to a close.

Between May 13 and 25, Human Rights Watch interviewed 132 victims and witnesses to violence by both sides during the battle for Abidjan and in the weeks after Gbagbo's arrest. Killings, torture, and inhumane treatment by Ouattara's armed forces continued while a Human Rights Watch researcher was in Abidjan, with clear ethnic targeting during widespread acts of reprisal and intimidation.

"The hope of a new era following President Ouattara's inauguration will fade fast unless these horrible abuses against pro-Gbagbo groups stop immediately," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The president has repeatedly promised credible, impartial investigations and prosecutions; now is the time to keep those promises."

Ouattara's Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (Forces Républicaines de la Côte d'Ivoire, FRCI) killed at least 95 unarmed people in Abidjan during operations in late April and May, when they sealed off and searched areas formerly controlled by pro-Gbagbo militia, Human Rights Watch found. The majority of documented abuses occurred in the longtime pro-Gbagbo stronghold of Yopougon, the focus of the final battle in Abidjan. Most killings were point-blank executions of youth from ethnic groups generally aligned with Gbagbo, in what appeared to be collective punishment for these groups' participation in Gbagbo's militias.

One man described how Republican Forces soldiers killed his 21- year-old brother: "Two of them grabbed his legs, another two held his arms behind him, and a fifth one held his head," he said. "Then a guy pulled out a knife and slit my brother's throat. He was screaming. I saw his legs shaking after they'd slit his throat, the blood streaming down. As they were doing it, they said that they had to eliminate all of the [Young] Patriots that had caused all the problems in the country."

Another woman who witnessed the May 8 killing of 18 youths found hiding in Yopougon was brutally raped by a Republican Forces soldier after being forced to load their vehicles with pillaged goods. On May 23, an elderly man in the same neighborhood saw Republican Forces execute his son, whom they accused of being a member of pro-Gbagbo militia.

Human Rights Watch also documented 54 extrajudicial executions in formal and informal detention sites, including the 16th and 37th Yopougon police stations and the GESCO oil and gas building now used as a Republican Forces base. On May 15, Human Rights Watch observed a body burning less than 30 meters from the 16th precinct police station. Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch the following day that it was the body of a captured militiaman who had been executed inside the police station grounds.

A Republican Forces soldier described the execution of 29 detainees in early May outside of the GESCO building. The soldier said Ch´rif Ousmane, the close ally of Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and longtime zone commander in the northern capital of Bouaké for Soro's Forces Nouvelles rebel group that now comprise the majority of the Republican Forces, gave the execution order. Two other witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they saw Ousmane in a vehicle that disposed of the tortured and executed body of an infamous militia leader in the Yopougon sub-neighborhood of Koweit around May 5. Ousmane oversees the Republican Forces' operations in Yopougon.

In addition to killings, Human Rights Watch interviewed young men who had been detained by the Republican Forces and then released, and documented the arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment of scores more young men - often arrested for no other apparent reason than their age and ethnic group. Nearly every former detainee described being struck repeatedly with guns, belts, rope, and fists to extract information on where weapons were hidden or to punish them for alleged participation in the Young Patriots, a pro-Gbagbo militia group. Several described torture, including forcibly removing teeth from one victim and placing a burning hot knife on another victim, then cutting him.

Human Rights Watch called on the Ouattara government to immediately ensure the humane treatment of anyone detained and to provide uninhibited access to detention sites for international monitors and members of the human rights division of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d'Ivoire, ONUCI).

Witnesses consistently identified the killers or abusers in detention as Republican Forces who descended on Abidjan from their northern bases, dressed in military uniforms and boots and often arriving in vehicles marked FRCI. These forces are overseen by Soro and Ouattara. Numerous witnesses and two soldiers who had participated in the killings said mid- and high-level commanders had been at or near the place where some killings took place.

Human Rights Watch called on the Ouattara government to place on immediate administrative leave, pending investigation, commanders against whom there is credible evidence of implication, either directly or by command responsibility, in killings, torture, or other severe abuse. At a minimum, this should include Chérif Ousmane and Ousmane Coulibaly for potential abuses in Yopougon and Captain Eddy Médy for his role in overseeing the western offensive that left hundreds of civilians dead.

Retreating pro-Gbagbo militia also left a bloody trail during the final battle for Abidjan, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch documented more than 220 killings perpetrated by pro-Gbagbo militia groups in the days and hours before being forced to abandon Abidjan. The day after Republican Forces seized Gbagbo, his militia went on a rampage in several areas of Yopougon, killing more than 80 people from northern Côte d'Ivoire and neighboring West African countries because of their presumed support for Ouattara.

A 65-year-old man there described how militiamen murdered five of his sons after breaking into his compound on April 12, the day after Gbagbo's arrest. The bodies were buried in a small mass grave, among 14 such sites identified by Human Rights Watch in Yopougon alone. Human Rights Watch documented seven cases of sexual violence by militia, particularly in Yopougon, often accompanied by the execution of the woman's husband.

No fewer than 3,000 civilians have been killed during the postelection crisis as a result of grave violations of international law by armed forces on both sides, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 19, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared his intention to open an investigation into crimes committed in Côte d'Ivoire. An ICC investigation could make an important contribution to ensuring accountability, but Human Rights Watch also urged Ouattara's administration to hold fair domestic trials to ensure justice for victims and promote respect for the rule of law in the conflict-ravaged country.

Human Rights Watch presented its findings to Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who promised to convene an emergency meeting with Soro and the principal Republican Forces commanders. He also said that the Ouattara government would not shield military and security forces from prosecutions for crimes they commit. The minister's commitments were a positive sign and should be fulfilled swiftly, Human Rights Watch said.

"If President Ouattara is serious about bringing this decade of abuse to an end, he should immediately suspend and investigate the commanders responsible for this horrific abuse," Dufka said. "Those implicated in grave crimes on both sides should be brought to justice."


[extensive additional details of specific incidents in full report, available at

Killings by Pro-Gbagbo Militia in Retreat From Abidjan

Human Rights Watch documented more than 220 killings by proGbagbo militias and mercenaries against real and perceived Ouattara supporters as the Republican Forces swept through Abidjan between March 31 and the end of April, including in the weeks after Gbagbo's arrest as fighting continued in Yopougon.

The killings documented by Human Rights Watch took place in Yopougon, Koumassi, and Port Bouët. Credible sources, including local human rights groups and neighborhood leaders of West African nations, had information about similar killings in other neighborhoods, like Treichville, Williamsville, and Plateau, suggesting that the total number killed by pro-Gbagbo militias during this period is probably higher. Bodies were often burned, sometimes en masse, by pro-Gbagbo militia or by residents who could no longer tolerate the smell - leaving no trace except for small bone fragments still visible to a Human Rights Watch researcher.


The militia, as documented by Human Rights Watch throughout the post-election violence, erected scores of roadblocks at which they frequently demanded identity cards from passers-by. Those from northern Côte d'Ivoire or neighboring countries like Burkina Faso or Mali were systematically killed, often in gruesome ways.


To President Alassane Ouattara:

  • Demonstrate that promises of impartial and credible prosecutions of grave crimes are meaningful by ensuring immediate investigations into killings, extrajudicial executions, and torture committed by the Republican Forces in Abidjan.
  • Hold those responsible accountable, including commanders who oversaw the crimes, regardless of their military rank.
  • Put commanders implicated in serious abuse on administrative leave, pending investigation.
  • Make publicly clear that anyone detained - including former Gbagbo militia implicated in grave crimes - is to be treated humanely in accordance with Ivorian and international law.
  • When cordon and search operations are conducted by the Republican Forces, ensure that police, gendarmes, or UN and French peacekeepers are included.
  • Seek the assistance of key international donors in assessing the capacity of the Ivorian justice system to prosecute grave crimes and addressing the weaknesses identified.
  • Provide complete access to all detention facilities to international monitors and members of the human rights division of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, including access that allows detainees to describe the conditions of their treatment without the presence or interference of the Republican Forces.
  • Cooperate fully with the ICC, including arresting suspects, if the court prosecutor opens an investigation of crimes committed in Côte d'Ivoire.

To the UN Security Council:

  • To bring light to atrocities committed in the past decade in Côte d'Ivoire, publish the 2004 Commission of Inquiry report when the 2011 Commission of Inquiry report is presented before the Human Rights Council in June. Failure to do so continues to send the signal that certain people deeply implicated in war crimes and other grave abuses, are being shielded from justice.

To the United Nations Operations in Côte d'Ivoire:

  • Increase significantly patrols, including joint patrols with the Republican Forces, in Yopougon, particularly in vulnerable pro-Gbagbo neighborhoods like Koweit, Yaosseh, Kout´, and AboboDoum ´.
  • Visit detention centers daily, particularly in Yopougon, and demand access to prisoners without interference by the Republican Forces.

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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