Côte d’Ivoire: Ban warns against retribution towards Gbagbo’s supporters

Laurent Gbagbo, former President of Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Voice of America/M Motta

12 April 2011 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara to ensure that there is no retaliation against supporters of his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo, who surrendered yesterday after months of defying the outcome of the election he lost.

In telephone discussions with Mr. Ouattara late yesterday, the Secretary-General stressed the expectation that since Mr. Gbagbo is now in the hands of the President’s forces, any further bloodshed will be avoided.

Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after losing the United Nations-certified presidential runoff poll in November plunged the West African country into violence, with his forces pitted against soldiers loyal to Mr. Ouattara, the internationally recognized President.

The Secretary-General said the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) will continue to provide the necessary support to the Ivorian Government to restore law and order to avert the risk of a security vacuum.

“The Mission will continue to execute its mandate to protect civilians and stands ready to support the efforts to address the critical humanitarian situation in the country and the forthcoming domestic and international investigations into human rights violations,” according to a statement issued by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson after the phone conversation between Mr. Ban and Mr. Ouattara.

Mr. Ban said that at the request of Mr. Gbagbo, and in line with its mandate, UNOCI will ensure his security and protection while he is in custody.

The Secretary-General welcomed Mr. Ouattara’s call for the immediate establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee.

He once again stressed that those responsible for human rights abuses, regardless of their affiliation, must be held accountable and urged parties to take advantage of the “historic opportunity” to foster national reconciliation, establish a national unity government and ensure accountability for the serious human rights violations committed during the post-elections conflict.

He also called upon both parties to reunify their security forces, disarm the numerous irregular forces that participated in the conflict, re-establish State authority throughout the country and complete the unfinished aspects of the peace process.

“The Secretary-General calls on all parties to work together to put an end to this tragic chapter, which could have been avoided had Mr. Gbagbo respected the will of the people at a far earlier stage,” according to the statement issued by his spokesperson.

In a related development, the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, today appointed three high-level experts as members of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire following the presidential elections.

The commission of inquiry, mandated by the Council, comprises Vitit Muntabhorn of Thailand, who will serve as its chair, Suliman Baldo of Sudan and Reine Alapini Gansou of Benin.

The commission’s mandate is “to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights committed in Côte d’Ivoire following the presidential election of 28 November 2010, in order to identify those responsible for such acts and bring them to justice.”

It is due to present its findings to the Council at its next session in June.

Mr. Phuangketkeow also voiced concern over continuing violence in Côte d’Ivoire. “The appointment of the commission underscores the gravity of the situation of alleged violations of human rights,” he said. He urged all parties to extend full cooperation to the commission of inquiry in discharging its mandate.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it has taken note of Mr. Ouattara’s pledge that Mr. Gbagbo will be treated fairly and in accordance with the law.

“We stress the essential need for open and transparent investigations leading to a fair trial and accountability for all the perpetrators of violence on both sides of the political divide,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters today in Geneva.

She also voiced concern over the arrest of a number of soldiers loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, saying it was unclear where they were taken and how they are being treated.

“Our human rights staff in Abidjan are looking into this and monitoring it. International fair trial standards include the need to press charges as soon as possible after arrest,” Ms. Shamdasani said.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that it is planning relief flights to provide food aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Côte d’Ivoire and to refugees in neighbouring Liberia.

“We need to open up a humanitarian lifeline to the many Ivorians who are now the victims of alarming shortages of food, water and other basic needs,” said WFP’s Executive Director Josette Sheeran in a press release.

The agency will airlift food this week from Niger and Mali into western Côte d’Ivoire and Monrovia, the Liberian capital, as part of a plan to transport 15,000 tons of cereals, vegetable oil and other forms of food aid.

“The deteriorating security situation, difficulties of moving around and the difficulty of food procurement in Côte d’Ivoire have compounded the already arduous logistics conditions which WFP has had to confront. Right now an airlift is the best way forward,” said Ms. Sheeran.

UN humanitarian agencies and their partners have meanwhile revised a funding request for Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Guinea, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The agencies are now seeking $160 million, up from $32 million previously, to respond to the humanitarian of 2 million crisis-affected people, including some 800,000 displaced persons, over a period of nine months, according to OCHA spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), humanitarian priorities in Côte d’Ivoire include re-establishing the supply of safe drinking water, resuming emergency immunization campaigns to prevent disease outbreaks, stronger protection measures, particularly in areas where there have been mass killings, and the quick return of children to school.

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