COTE D’IVOIRE: Human rights getting ugly – Briefing

IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010. Both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are laying claim to the presidency, with Gbagbo refusing to yield to international pressure to step down. The series takes a look at the UN’s position, issues of human rights, as well as the stances of the African Union, ECOWAS, western governments and the EU and World Bank.

Human rights – a worsening picture

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After a relatively peaceful first round of voting at the end of October, the incidents of violence and abuse reported in different parts of Côte d’Ivoire since, point to a serious deterioration in the overall human rights situation and one that carries echoes of the worst atrocities committed over the past decade. Human rights organizations in Africa, Europe and the USA have repeatedly raised the alarm. Rival political leaders and their respective followers in Côte d’Ivoire have traded accusations about gratuitous excesses by the other side.

16 December, the day when Ouattara’s supporters attempted to march on the Abidjan headquarters of the state broadcaster, Radio Télévison Ivoirienne (RTI), has been widely presented as marking a point of no return. Testimonies from different districts of the economic capital highlighted the role of security forces and Liberian mercenaries in keeping demonstrators off the streets with indiscriminate violence.

Human rights experts and civil society representatives acknowledge serious difficulties in getting a comprehensive overview of the abuses taking place, particularly with often contradictory reports, often taken up by a highly partisan printed press, clouding the issue.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior civil society activist told IRIN: “I have been in hiding for more than two weeks after being threatened. Sometimes it seems as if things are quiet. It can seem like that during the daytime, but you never know what will happen at night”.

How many people have died since the crisis began?

Simon Munzu, head of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire’s (ONUCI) human rights division, told reporters on 6 January that at least 210 people had been killed since the second round of voting on 28 November. Different figures have been advanced in recent weeks, with Gbagbo’s supporters adamant that most figures presented have been seriously inflated. ONUCI now has its own hotline, asking callers to ring in with details of security problems and human rights abuses. ONUCI says the number of deaths, injuries and disappearances has fluctuated in line with the level of political tension inside the country. The overall trends remain alarming.

What kind of abuses have been reported?

A considerable number of human rights organizations, both local and international, have raised the alarm on Côte d’Ivoire, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The UN Human Rights Council held a special meeting on Côte d’Ivoire in Geneva on 23 December, including a contribution from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has spoken out strongly. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has signaled the ICC’s interest and concern about developments in Côte d’Ivoire.

Most of the reports issued highlight the same kind of practices, and issue near-identical appeals. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Pillay have raised long-established concerns about nocturnal raids by security forces and others in districts of Abidjan said to be heavily populated by Ouattara supporters. At least four people were killed in a raid on the Yopougon headquarters of the pro-Ouattara Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) by unknown persons on the night of 1 December. Human rights organizations have pointed to a series of abductions in similar circumstances, with victims subsequently reported missing or found dead. More recently, at least one person was killed after security forces attacked the Abidjan office of the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), a party allied to Ouattara.

Pillay has warned of a pattern of extra-judicial killings. There have been more general complaints about a climate of violence and intimidation, of sections of the media playing a provocative, dangerous role, and of unnecessary restrictions on people’s movement, exacerbating tensions.

ONUCI has been at loggerheads with security forces over access to a reported mass grave at N’Dotré, just outside Abidjan, with UN Special Representative Young Jin Chin Choi among those denied access to the alleged site. 

Gbagbo’s supporters says the human rights reporting has been biased, arguing that the focus has been too much on Abidjan, with not nearly enough monitoring of excesses in territory of the former rebel Forces Nouvelles. HRW has acknowledged difficulties in monitoring abuses carried out in such areas, but has emphasised that “the long history of grave human rights abuses by Forces Nouvelles (FN) soldiers against the civilian population demands immediate attention”, noting also “worrying reports” from refugees heading into Liberia of FN soldiers targeting alleged Gbagbo supporters.

Munzu’s press briefing on 6 January highlighted fast emerging problems in the volatile west, the worst being at Duékoué. The UN has confirmed 14 deaths after bloody clashes between militia fighters from the Guéré ethnic group, backed by Liberian mercenaries, and sections of the local Malinké community, backed by ‘Dozo’ traditional warriors. Duékoué has been a major flash-point in the past, with serious confrontations between the Guéré, firmly loyal to Gbagbo, and the Malinké, normally seen as the main part of Ouattara’s constituency, with long-standing land issues and other problems exacerbating tensions.



Sources: Telephone interview, ONUCI , Human Rights Watch

Theme (s): Governance, Human Rights, Security,

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