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Open Letter to the UN Security Council on the Situation in Côte d’Ivoire

25 March 2011

The security and humanitarian situation in Côte d’Ivoire is rapidly deteriorating. Civil war in the country has been reignited; we are no longer warning of the risk of war, but urging swift action to halt the fighting and prevent ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocity crimes.
With Côte d’Ivoire on its agenda for the last nine years and a strong peacekeeping mission (UNOCI) in the country, currently including 9000 uniformed personnel, the UN Security Council must immediately take appropriate measures to stop the war, including those requested by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in its resolution adopted on 24 March. Failure to do so risks seeing the Ivorian crisis spiral further out of control, destabilising Côte d’Ivoire’s fragile neighbours, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry.
It should, moreover, support the diplomatic efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS. Once named, the High Representative appointed by the president of the AU Commission should offer a last chance to defeated president Laurent Gbagbo and his entourage to leave power under appropriate financial and security guarantees. This is still the best way out of the crisis.
However, since Gbagbo may still reject any offer, the Security Council should immediately authorise military action to ensure the protection of the population by UNOCI or other authorised forces and to support President Alassane Ouattara and his government in exercising authority over the armed forces and ensuring the territorial integrity of the state.
As stated in the ECOWAS resolution, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire is now a regional humanitarian emergency. Military operations by armed forces loyal to Gbagbo are now underway, with heavy arms being used in attacks on the Abobo area of Abidjan, where Ouattara supporters are based. These attacks come after intensifying confrontations between Gbagbo’s forces and armed groups affiliated to Ouattara over the past month.
According to the UN, 440 people have been killed and 500,000 have been forced to flee their homes. This toll is still growing. There are reports of sexual violence, summary execution and individuals being burnt alive. Gbagbo’s militias continue to perpetrate violence and organise road blocks controlled by armed men, and elements in the Ouattara camp have also been implicated in targeting civilians.
After orchestrating a coup d’état to stay in power and now shaken economically and militarily, Gbagbo’s regime is intentionally driving the country to chaos. His camp is calling Ivorian youths to join the army en masse with the promise to distribute arms to new recruits. Meanwhile, Gbagbo-controlled media broadcast hate speech and incite violence. The Security Council should again condemn the violent attacks and propagation of hate speech and proceed with individual sanctions against responsible persons. Methods and capacities to block or jam outlets broadcasting hate speech should be authorised by the Council and its Members.
Unfortunately, UNOCI appears overwhelmed by the situation. Intimidated by constant harassment from Gbagbo’s camp, UNOCI is unable to implement its mandate to protect civilians subjected to violence or the threat of violence. The UN’s posture in the country must change, and UNOCI must be required to use force when necessary to carry out its mandate effectively.
The political and military command structures of the Mission must be reinforced as quickly as possible. Its capacities to monitor the situation, process information and react to facts on the ground, including through public human rights reporting and supervision of the 2004 arms embargo, need significant improvement. The UN’s reputation is at stake. The Council should also seek to ensure the rapid deployment of the additional troops authorised by SCR 1967 (2011), and the Secretariat should rotate better trained and equipped peacekeepers from Troop Contributing Countries instructed to use robust force.
Even with these essential measures taken, UNOCI might not have the capacity to intervene effectively to stop the civil war and ensure adequate protection should mass violence and ethnic cleansing break out. Preparedness for this all-too likely scenario is not only essential, but a fundamental responsibility of the Council and its Members. The Security Council should authorise an ECOWAS-led mission to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of the Ivorian people.
Louise Arbour
President of the International Crisis Group


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