Cote d’Ivoire: Pro-Gbagbo Forces Abducting Opponents
Human Rights Watch
23 December 2010
Security forces associated with Laurent Gbagbo are abducting and "disappearing" his rival's supporters, Human Rights Watch said today, citing statements from numerous witnesses.
Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo's rival, is widely believed to have won last month's disputed presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire. Ivorian leaders who order and encourage these kinds of grave human rights abuses could be held accountable by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch has spoken with families and neighbors in pro-Ouattara neighborhoods of Abidjan, the country's economic capital. These witnesses said that a combination of pro-Gbagbo security forces and unofficial militia have conducted nightly raids since December 16, 2010, dragging people away in official vehicles and taking them to undisclosed locations. Many of the abducted remain missing, and the security forces are refusing to reveal their whereabouts. (…)
"Abducting, disappearing, and killing perceived political opponents are horrific human rights crimes, which can and should be punished," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "No Ivorian families should have to suffer this grave mistreatment." (…) "Both forces loyal to Gbagbo and those to Ouattara should be on notice that they could be held to account for past and current crimes," said Peligal.
Incitement to Violence Against Peacekeepers, Intimidation of Human Rights Workers
Over the last week, pro-Gbagbo forces have also used language against both UN and French forces that has the potential to incite violence, Human Rights Watch said. At a December 18 rally, Charles Blé Goudé called on his Jeunes Patriotes (Young Patriots), a group with a history of violent behavior against the opposition and peacekeepers, to "liberate" the country of foreign peacekeepers.
On the night of December 18, armed men fired on a vehicle registered with the United Nations mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), which has been in the country since 2004. UN officials also reported that since this rally, armed members of the security forces have entered the houses of some UNOCI staff in what appeared to be a clear attempt to intimidate UN personnel.
The ICC statute prohibits attacks against international peacekeeping missions as long as they are operating as peacekeepers. On December 8, the ICC began a hearing about the alleged involvement of two Darfur rebel leaders in an attack that killed 12 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. (…)
Kang, the UN deputy human rights commissioner, said that Gbagbo's security forces have also blocked the UN mission's human rights staff from investigating an allegation that there is a mass grave in an Abidjan neighborhood. She said that as part of this effort, the security forces blocked the special representative of the secretary-general for Côte d'Ivoire, Y.J. Choi, at gunpoint.
"In his first public speech since the violence erupted, Gbagbo said that no more Ivorian blood should be shed," Peligal said. "His security forces and militia supporters should release those currently in detention and allow human rights workers to operate without fear or interference."
Recruitment of Foreign Mercenaries
Human Rights Watch has also documented the recruitment of Liberian mercenaries by pro-Gbagbo government forces, beginning at least in early December, when some who had been combatants in previous regional civil wars were offered money for their services. Multiple witnesses during the December 16 demonstrations in Abidjan noted the presence of Liberians, identifiable by their use of English and irregular uniforms.
While evidence collected so far is about recruitment by those supporting Gbagbo, the history of recruitment by Forces Nouvelles, who actively back Ouattara, raises concerns that mercenaries may be crossing into the northern half of Côte d'Ivoire and fomenting instability there as well, Human Rights Watch said. There are worrying reports from some of the thousands of people who have fled to Liberia in recent days that Forces Nouvelles soldiers have targeted pro-Gbagbo individuals and villages for abuse. This region, with its long history of grave human rights abuses by Forces Nouvelles soldiers, has been largely unreported on since the presidential run-off and demands greater attention from the UN and human rights groups, Human Rights Watch said.
Given the history of war crimes and serious human rights abuses committed by combatants in both the Liberian and Ivorian conflicts, Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern about this cross-border recruitment. UN and Liberian authorities should monitor borders to prevent conscription of children, in particular, Human Rights Watch said.