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Côte d’Ivoire: New spate of abuses by military
Human Rights Watch
19 November 2012
 
Côte d’Ivoire’s military was responsible for widespread human rights abuses in August and early September 2012, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The abuses included arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, inhuman treatment, and, in some cases, torture.

The 73-page report, “‘A Long Way from Reconciliation’: Abusive Military Crackdown in Response to Security Threats in Côte d’Ivoire,” details the brutal crackdown that followed a series of violent attacks on military installations around the country in August. The attacks were allegedly committed by militants loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo. The resulting crackdown recalled the grave crimes committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, in some cases under the same commanders previously identified as responsible for brutal abuses, Human Rights Watch found. The government of President Alassane Ouattara needs to ensure the prompt investigation and prosecution of forces who committed serious human rights abuses, including torture and inhuman treatment, in response to these security threats, Human Rights Watch said. (…)

The report is based on a three-week mission to Abidjan in late August and early September, during the height of the military crackdown. Human Rights Watch interviewed 39 people who had been arrested and detained after the August attacks, as well as another 14 witnesses to mass arrests, beatings, and other abuses. Human Rights Watch also spoke with drivers of commercial and passenger transport vehicles, family members of people still in detention, leaders from Ivorian civil society, government officials, representatives of humanitarian organizations, representatives of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, and diplomats in Abidjan.

The seemingly coordinated and well-organized attacks on the military installations between August and October came on the heels of earlier assaults along the Liberian-Ivorian border. In a particularly high-profile raid on August 6, attackers killed at least six military personnel and stole a substantial cache of weapons from one of the most important military bases in the country. Since April, at least 50 people, including many civilians, have been killed during these attacks, which the Ivorian government has credibly blamed on pro-Gbagbo militants intent on destabilizing the country.

Ivorian authorities have the right and the responsibility to respond to security threats in accordance with Ivorian and international law, including by arresting and prosecuting suspects, Human Rights Watch said. The government has largely given that power to the country’s military, the Republican Forces. Unlike the police and gendarmerie, the military has no legal basis for overseeing arrests, interrogations, and detentions – particularly of civilians.

The authority given to the Republican Forces is of particular concern in light of the atrocities in which certain soldiers and commanders were implicated during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis and the lack of accountability for these crimes in the period since the Ouattara government took power, Human Rights Watch said.

In August, members of the Republican Forces carried out mass arbitrary arrests of perceived Gbagbo supporters almost daily in the Abidjan neighborhood of Yopougon. (…)Hundreds of young men appear to have been rounded up and detained, largely on the basis of their ethnicity and place of residence.

Those arrested were often brought to military camps, which are not lawful detention sites for civilians under Ivorian law. (…)

Human Rights Watch interviewed five victims of torture who had been detained at the Adjamé camp. They said military personnel subjected them to beatings, flogging, and other extreme forms of physical mistreatment, generally during questioning related to the location of guns or alleged suspects, or to extract a confession. (…)The detention conditions described were grossly inadequate, including severe overcrowding, near complete denial of food and water, and humiliating practices like being placed in a room with excrement all over the floor as punishment.

(…) Although it did not reach the level of torture, Human Rights Watch likewise documented cruel and inhuman treatment at the BAE and Dabou military camps, including frequent beatings. (…)

While in Abidjan, Human Rights Watch briefed the Ivorian government, including the interior and human rights ministers, on its principal findings, and followed up with a letter to the Ivorian presidency detailing the report’s main conclusions and asking for an official response. In its answers, the government stressed the gravity of the security threat and the need for solidarity with the military in the face of the repeated, violent attacks. However, authorities also promised an investigation into the abuses documented by Human Rights Watch, indicating that anyone found responsible for torture or inhuman treatment would be prosecuted.

“The Ivorian government’s promises to ensure credible and impartial investigations into human rights abuses are a positive response, but the reality is that its forces remain largely above the law,” Dufka said. (…)
 
See full press release.
See the report.
 

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