Côte d’Ivoire: UN Human Rights Council strongly condemns post-electoral abuses

Supporters of Alassane Ouattara who were injured during marches being treated at UNOCI headquarters in Côte d’Ivoire

23 December 2010 – The United Nations Human Rights Council today strongly condemned the human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire, and demanded the protection of civilians and the prosecution of those responsible for abuses in the wake of the recent presidential poll.

The West African country plunged into turmoil after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down after he lost the presidential election to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, who has been recognized by the international community, including the UN, as the duly elected president of Côte d’Ivoire.

In a resolution adopted during a special session in Geneva, the Council said the human rights violations include killings, destruction of property, abductions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence and denial of the right to peaceful assembly.

The Council urged all parties, particularly defence and security forces, to refrain from violence and to respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It also appealed to the media to refrain from inciting violence and spreading hostile propaganda and hate speech. All restrictions on the media must also cease, the Council said, adding that the Ivorians must “spare no efforts” to preserve peace, security and human rights and to strengthen democratic institutions.

Addressing today’s session, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang told the Council that human rights officials have verified allegations of numerous violations over the past one week.

“Between 16 and 21 December, human rights officers have substantiated allegations of 173 killings, 90 instances of torture and ill treatment, 471 arrests and detentions and 24 cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances,” said Ms. Kang.

It has not been possible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to movement restrictions imposed on UN personnel, she added.

Ms. Kang called for the immediate lifting of restrictions imposed by security forces and youth groups loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, saying such infringements on freedom of movement have also hindered the capacity of the UN to deliver much-needed services and humanitarian assistance.

She also voiced concern over the “monopolization of many means of communication,” including state radio and television by Mr. Gbagbo’s loyalists, saying that foreign broadcasts considered favourable to Mr. Ouattara have been banned for several weeks and constantly scrambled.

“Particularly alarming is the use of the national Radio and Télévision Ivoirienne and some private newspapers to incite hatred and violence among the population and to disseminate false and inflammatory information against the United Nations.”

She reminded leaders in Côte d’Ivoire of human rights norms, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which establishes that the authority of a government stems from the will of the people, hence the need for Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters to respect the outcome of the elections.

In an interview with UN Radio, Y. J. Choi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Côte d'Ivoire, said he was personally prevented from visiting a site suspected to be a mass grave.

“I went there and we were about to enter into negotiations then reinforcement came with young men mounted on pick-up trucks […] with rocket launchers directly aiming at us… Finally, because of our rules of engagement we returned but we will continue to try to reach this site to verify the facts.”

He added that he had met Mr. Gbagbo several times since the declaration of the results of the 28 November elections.

“I met him several times to deliver two messages: that he lost and must accept it; the second message was if his action to change the results of the election results in serious violations of human rights then there would be no turning back. He will be dragging […] people into tragedy.”

Meanwhile, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), which Mr. Choi heads, reported that severe violations of human rights and acts of intimidation continue in many neighbourhoods of Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and in the west.

Abuses include identifying dwellings by marking them with signs to facilitate the entry by armed individuals at night into homes to abduct people and commit other crimes, UNOCI said in a statement at a press briefing in Abidjan. To protect themselves, men have been setting up makeshift barricades while women warn neighbourhoods of the presence of intruders by blowing whistles and banging pots and pans.

The UN mission said both access routes to the Golf Hotel, where Mr. Ouattara’s office is situated, remain blockaded by troops and youths loyal to Mr. Gbagbo’s camp, who are sometimes assisted by masked individuals armed with rocket launchers.

Restrictions on UNOCI persist and its supply trucks and patrols are being blocked or followed by armed men in vehicles.

Hostile broadcasts against UNOCI have continued and additional pressure is being applied by making it difficult for the mission to access its hangar at the Abidjan airport and the cutting off of fuel supplies.

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