Human rights in Côte d’Ivoire deteriorating, warns top UN official

Civilians leave the dangerous suburb of Abobo in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

10 March 2011 – A top United Nations official warned today that human rights violations, including rapes, abductions and killings, are escalating amid the ongoing post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, with at least 27 people killed in just the past week. 

According to investigations conducted by UN human rights officers in the country, at least 392 people have been killed in Côte d’Ivoire since mid-December amid the unrest resulting from Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office after his UN-certified defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in last November’s presidential election.

“Overall, the situation appears to be deteriorating alarmingly, with a sharp increase in inter-communal and inter-ethnic confrontations,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

“Human rights abuses, including rapes, abductions and killings, are being committed by people supporting both sides,” she added. In addition, families of high-profile individuals known to be politically active have been targeted, media groups seen as pro-Ouattara have been threatened, and the residences of members appointed to the Ouattara Government have been the targets of looting and ransacking.

Ms. Pillay cited the killing last week of seven women by security forces supporting Mr. Gbagbo at a peaceful demonstration in Abobo in support of Mr. Ouattara, saying video footage of the slayings was shocking and could be used to prosecute the individuals responsible.

Another four people were killed in clashes yesterday between the Forces de Défense et de Sécurité (FDS), loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, and the “Invisible Commando,” a previously unknown group which appears to be opposing pro-Gbagbo forces, after a peaceful demonstration to mourn and pay tribute to the seven women killed last week.

The High Commissioner condemned the reported use of civilians as human shields by the Invisible Commando, which is said to be actively preventing civilians from leaving Abobo and other tense areas of the commercial capital, Abidjan.

“I strongly urge all sides to respect the rights of civilians,” said Ms. Pillay. “Particularly worrying is the constant incitement to violence by influential leaders, most notably Blé Goude, who appear to be deliberately stimulating attacks against political opponents, other ethnic groups, nationals from other West African countries, as well as against the UN staff and operations working in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Warning of a risk of a resurgence of the civil war that in 2002 split the country into a Government-held south and a rebel-controlled north, she urged all parties to show utmost restraint to prevent it, and to resolve their differences peacefully.

Also today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) will maintain its flight operations and take “all necessary measures” to protect its assets and fulfil its mandate, particularly with regards to protecting civilians.

This came after the Ouattara Government issued a statement invalidating a declaration by the authorities supporting Mr. Gbagbo that banned UN and French peacekeeping aircraft from flying over or landing in Côte d’Ivoire.

Mr. Ban deplored this latest attempt to disrupt UNOCI’s operations and warned all parties that any attempt to disrupt flights conducted by the impartial forces is “unacceptable,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

The 9,000-strong UNOCI has been supporting the stabilization and reunification efforts in the country over the past seven years. The Security Council has rejected Mr. Gbagbo’s demands for a withdrawal of the mission, instead extending its mandate and authorizing the deployment of an additional 2,000 troops and three armed helicopters.

The Secretary-General notes with satisfaction the statement issued by the Government of President Ouattara regarding as invalid a declaration by the authorities supporting Mr. Gbagbo, banning United Nations and Licorne flights inside Côte d'Ivoire.

He deplores this latest attempt to disrupt the operations of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and warns all parties that any attempt to disrupt flights conducted by the impartial forces is unacceptable.

The Secretary-General confirms that UNOCI will maintain its flight operations and take all necessary measures, as directed by unanimous Security Council resolutions, to protect its assets and fulfil its mandate, particularly with regards to protection of civilians.

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