Any attack on new Côte d’Ivoire leader will be repulsed, top UN envoy warns

Special Envoy Y.J. Choi (right) speaks with injured pro-Alassane Ouattara supporters in Abidjan

31 December 2010 – The United Nations today warned Côte d’Ivoire’s outgoing president that it would “repulse and defeat” any attack by his partisans on the headquarters of his internationally recognized successor, and that he himself would be held personally accountable for human rights abuses.

“They cannot possibly take the Golf Hotel,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi told UN Radio, when asked about threats by Minister for Youth Blé Goudé to attack tomorrow the UN-protected hotel where opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, clear victor in November’s run-off election, is based after outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down and vacate the presidential palace.

“We are heavily armed and present and preparing ourselves,” he said of the 9-000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, known as UNOCI, some of whose forces are guarding the building. “They will be defeated, they will be repulsed. There is no doubt about this.

“I hope he (Mr. Goudé) will not step into this fatal minefield,” he added, noting that the UN had so far not seen any sign of preparations for an attack.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief has directly warned Mr. Gbagbo and his entourage that they will be held personally accountable amid continuing reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, sexual violence and arbitrary detentions following his refusal to step down.

“No longer can heads of State, and other actors, be sure that they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in Geneva today, announcing that she had written “in the strongest terms” to Mr. Gbagbo reminding him of his duty under international law to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting, instigating or standing by in tacit approval of rights violations.

She sent similar letters to Ivorian Republican Guard Commander General Bruno Ble Dogbo, Marines Rear Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, and Security Operations Command Centre General Georges Guiai Bi Poin.

Ms. Pillay reiterated her strong concern that deteriorating security and interference with UNOCI continue to block investigation of a large number of reported violations.

“We have received reports of at least two mass graves; however, UN human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them,” she said. “Denying access to alleged mass grave sites and places where the victims’ mortal remains are allegedly deposited constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She voiced concern at calls by Mr. Goudé and others for attacks against the UN and “non Ivorians,” as well as reports about the marking of homes with ethnic identities, which could be followed by attacks against civilians from certain ethnic groups.

Yesterday Mr. Ban warned against any attempts to attack the Golf Hotel amid fears that renewed violence could plunge the West African country back into civil war, a chapter that the elections were meant to close.

In 2002 the country was split by civil war into a rebel-held north and a Government-controlled south. UNOCI, which has been on the ground since 2003 helping to monitor a ceasefire and promote reunification, has rebuffed Mr. Gbagbo’s demand that it leave following its certification of Mr. Ouattara’s victory.

Ms. Pillay’s announcement followed a joint news release by UN human rights experts decrying a litany of reported abuses in the violence that has followed Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office.

Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns cited the number of reported extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and reiterated warnings against the risks of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo cited allegations of sexual violence committed by armed men and called on all parties to do their utmost to prevent such abuses.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, stressing that victims, including relatives of the disappeared, have the rights to justice, redress, truth and reparation, vowed to see that those rights are respected. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that hundreds of people have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested and some taken to illegal centres in what it called “heinous violations” of international human rights law.

Meanwhile, UN agencies are rushing aid to nearly 20,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Liberia. The UN refugee agency said it would set up camps and called on the international community to provide more funding, noting that it had pre-positioned aid in the region to assist 30,000 refugees and spent $3 million from its emergency reserves.

“Our teams in Liberia continue to distribute emergency aid across villages where refugees are sheltered,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, listing plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, kerosene, lamps, buckets, soap, mosquito nets and other basic household items. “We will need donor support to keep continuing our aid efforts.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already airlifted emergency supplies into Liberia as part of a rapid scale up of humanitarian operations, including five metric tons of high energy biscuits.

“We are mobilizing food stocks at a regional and local level to help these people, who are facing a grim start to the New Year,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla said. “These biscuits will provide a welcome nutritional boost to refugees, many of whom have crossed the border with little in the way of food for their families.”

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