The Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire
a. The Electoral Process
b. Post-Election Violence: Human Rights Violations Reach RtoP Threshold
a. The UN Response
b. The African Regional and Sub-regional Response
c. Responses from the European Union and Foreign Governments
d. Response from Civil Society
The 2010 presidential election between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and opposition member Alassane Ouattara resulted in a political stalemate and violent conflict after Gbagbo refused to honor the results that declared Ouattara the winner. As of April 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that over 1000 civilians had died as a result of clashes, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that more than 500,000 Ivoirians were forcibly displaced, and 94,000 Ivoirians fled to neighboring Liberia out of fear of violence. Forces loyal to both Gbagbo and Ouattara were failing to protect civilians and were accused of gross human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity. In an effort to protect the people of Côte d’Ivoire from further atrocities, a military operation began on 4 April following a statement by the UN Secretary-General in which he instructed UN Operations in Côte D’Ivoire (UNOCI) to “take the necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.” Gbagbo’s hold on power ended on April 11, 2011 when he was arrested by Ouattara’s forces after days of fighting with involvement of UNOCI and the French military.
a. The Electoral Process
Support for presidential candidates Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara has been split along ethnic, regional and religious grounds. Gbagbo loyalists have been concentrated within the southwestern Bété ethnic group; votes for Ouattara were primarily from Muslims living in the north. The first-round of presidential polls took place in a generally peaceful environment, although UNHCR reported acts of voter intimidation and obstruction of movement. The initial election did not yield a winner and a second electoral round was held on November 28, 2010. The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) released the polling results on December 2, 2010 and declared Ouattara the new president of Côte d’Ivoire after he received 54.1% of the vote. Election results were declared invalid by the President of the Constitutional Council and Gbagbo ally, Paul Yao N’dre, after it was determined that the CEI did not release the results by the December 1 deadline. The disputed election results created a political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in which Gbagbo and Ouattara both claimed victory and established governments in the city of Abidjan. Alassane Ouattara established his seat of government at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan which was then barricaded by military forces loyal to Gbagbo. Alassane Ouattara received military support from the northern rebel militia, the Forces Nouvelles.
b. Post-election Crisis: Human Rights Violations Reach RtoP Threshold
The political stalemate turned violent and caused the decline of state security, threatened regional stability, and resulted in gross human rights violations and violence against civilians. The UN reported in March 2011 that over 1000 people were killed in clashes, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that over 500,000 Ivorians were forcibly displaced, and 94,000 Ivoirians fled to neighboring Liberia out of fear of violence. Forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara were accused of gross human rights against civilians which could amount to crimes against humanity. UNOCI confirmed on 28 March that pro-Gbagbo forces had used mortars and heavy machine guns and targeted UN staff and vehicles. Human Rights Watch reported on 15 March that pro-Gbagbo forces targeted immigrants from West African countries, and detained and attacked Ouattara loyalists in Abidjan based on ethnic and political motivation. The European Union, speaking before the Human Rights Council on 25 March, stated that attacks against the population might constitute crimes against humanity, and Kouadio Adjoumani, appointed by Ouattara to speak on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire, echoed the statement. He declared before the Council that the attacks on civilians in Abidjan should be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
In a report released on April 9, 2011, Human Rights Watch accused Ouattara’s forces of burning villages in the west of the country and carrying out attacks on civilians, including the raping and killing of alleged Gbagbo supporters. The worst atrocities against civilians reported since the start of electoral violence occurred on March 29, 2011 following the military advancement and seizure of the city of Duékoué by forces loyal to Ouattara. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that at least 800 civilians were killed and tens of thousands fled the brutal attack in which most victims appeared to have been Gbagbo supporters. The ICRC condemned the attack on civilians, which it stated were “particularly shocking in its size and brutality”, and reminded all parties of their obligation to protect the population of the territory under their control. A group of UN human rights experts issued a warning on April 1, 2011, expressing concern about gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and extrajudicial killings, which may “be tantamount to international crimes, of which the International Criminal Court may take action.”
a. The UN Response
The Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, issued two joint statements on the political crisis. The first, published on 29 December 2010, focused on reports of human rights violations by Gbagbo supporters and the use of inflammatory speech to incite hatred and violence by loyalist forces. The Advisers reminded all parties that the Responsibility to Protect includes the prevention of mass atrocity crimes, “importantly including their incitement.” Special Advisers Deng and Luck, using more forceful and stern language in their second statement issued on January 29, 2011, specifically warned “about the possibility of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Côte d’Ivoire.” The Advisers stated “that urgent steps should be taken, in line with the “responsibility to protect”, to avert the risk of genocide and ensure the protection of all those at risk for mass atrocities.” Furthermore, the statement reminded “all parties of their responsibility to protect all populations in Côte d’Ivoire, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, or religion.”
In its fourteenth special session held on December 23, 2010, the Human Rights Council passed a Resolution condemning the human rights violations. The Council responded to the increase in violence and gross human rights abuses that occurred since the start of the political crisis with the adoption of Resolution A/HRC/16/33 on 25 March in which it decided to dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations of human rights violations. The team of independent experts was named on April 12, 2011 under the leadership of Vitit Muntabhorn, the former special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea. The investigation will cover the period since the November 28, 2010 presidential loss of Laurent Gbagbo.
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1962 on December 20, 2010 which extended the mandate of UNOCI through June 30, 2011 and provided additional troops and personnel support to the mission. Following a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Security Council unanimously voted on January 19, 2011 to send an additional 2,000 UNOCI forces in the country. UNOCI deployed forces to the Hotel du Golf to protect Ouattara and his Government. The Security Council met again on the issue of Côte d’Ivoire on 30 March and unanimously adopted Resolution 1975, which issued targeted sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and stressed the support given to the mission to use all necessary means within its mandate to protect civilians under threat. The Resolution stated that attacks that have targeted civilians could amount to crimes against humanity, and reaffirmed the primary responsibility of all States to protect civilians.
On April 4, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement in response to the seizure of Duékoué and subsequent attack where he expressed his concern about the deteriorating security situation and indicated that the violence resulted in a heavy toll on the civilian population He noted that Gbagbo loyalists launched targeted attacks against UNOCI peacekeepers and in an effort to protect civilians in Abidjan, the Secretary-General instructed UNOCI to “take the necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population, with the support of the French forces pursuant to paragraph 17 of Security Council Resolution 1962 (2010).” A military operation began on 4 April, and UN peacekeepers and French forces fired on Gbagbo’s troops to prevent them from using heavy weapons on civilians.
In a press release issued on April 6, 2011 the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for the International Criminal Court expressed its concern about the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and stated that the OTP had been conducting a preliminary examination into the accusations of crimes committed during the crisis.
b. The African Regional and sub-regional Response
The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded to with efforts to resolve the crisis through mediation and diplomatic pressure.
The AU sent former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya to hold talks between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. On January 28, 2011 the AU’s Peace and Security Council established a High-Level Panel that, with the assistance of a team of experts, was mandated to evaluate the crisis and formulate a solution. The High Level Panel for the Resolution of the Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire issued a Communiqué on March 4 in which it reiterated the AU’s urgent appeal to show restraint, and called on parties “to refrain from acts and steps likely to undermine the ongoing efforts, including the media campaigns inciting hatred and violence.” The Panel issued a proposal that called for the formation of a government of national unity while an “honorable exit was found for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo”; however Gbagbo rejected calls to step down and invited the Panel to reconsider its position on the political crisis. The AU Peace and Security Council, in its 256th meeting held on 10 March, adopted a decision on Côte d’Ivoire that reaffirmed its recognition of Ouattara as the President, requested the appointment of a High Representative for the implementation of a political solution to the crisis, and underlined its determination to use all relevant instruments of the AU that the situation would require. As a measure to implement the communiqué, the AU appointed Mr. José Brito, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cape Verde, to the position of High Representative for Côte d’Ivoire on 26 March; however Ouattara immediately rejected the new envoy in a statement made on 27 March based on Mr. Brito’s personal and political connections with Laurent Gbagbo.
ECOWAS appointed former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, as envoy to Côte d’Ivoire, who offered Gbagbo exile abroad and a monthly stipend if he stepped down. ECOWAS also issued sanctions on Gbagbo and threatened to use force if mediation efforts failed and Ouattara did not assume the presidency. ECOWAS in its 25 March Communiqué urged the UN Security Council to strengthen the UNOCI mandate and to adopt stronger targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and his associates. ECOWAS stated that the crisis had become a “regional humanitarian emergency” that required “the President of the ECOWAS Commission to explore all avenues of providing the Government of Mr. Ouattara all the necessary legal and diplomatic means to exercise its authority.” The regional body issued a press release on 5 April in response to the attacks on civilians in Duékoué that expressed “its horror at the reported massacre”. ECOWAS stated that it would “actively support any action to bring the perpetrators to justice at the appropriate time.” Furthermore, the statement denounced reports that civilians have been targeted for use as human shields, and reiterated “that those who incite unarmed civilians to risk their lives needlessly will be held accountable for their action.”
c. Responses by the European Union and Foreign Governments
The European Union (EU), and numerous countries including the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, formally recognized Alassane Ouattara as the President.
The European Council issued a statement on 25 January condemning “the violence perpetrated since the second round of the presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire.” Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union (EU) Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response issued a statement on 4 April that expressed her alarm at the degree of violence committed in Duékoué and her concern about the spill-over impact of the conflict on regional states. She appealed to Gbagbo and Ouattara to “allow the help of humanitarian workers” to prevent the country from “slipping further into a civil war,” and reaffirmed the commitment of the European Commission to mobilize emergency aid to assist with the humanitarian response. The US and EU leveled financial sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo, and members of his inner circle. Several countries, including the US, offered Gbagbo a “dignified exit”, stating that he would be provided employment and residence overseas if he relinquished power.
d. Response from Civil Society
Civil society groups expressed concern about the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire and condemned the grave human rights abuses that occurred. Organizations including Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and the International Federation for Human Rights, denounced violence carried out by forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara and accused both sides of gross human rights violations targeting unarmed civilians.
In its Open Statement on the Situation in Côte d’Ivoire released on 17 December 2010, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reported violent clashes between Forces Nouvelles and the military warned that the political crisis could lead to mass atrocities and called on national governments, the AU, ECOWAS and the UN to respond to ensure the protection of civilians. The Centre recommended that contingency plans be established to identify what preventive and protective measures to use and who could best implement the efforts. Furthermore, the Open Statement identified the crucial role of the Security Council in averting and halting mass atrocities through actions such as the expansion of sanctions, enforcement of an arms embargo, and the support of UNOCI’s mandate to protect civilians.
Amnesty International (AI) issued several statements condemning the violence in Côte d’Ivoire and on 22 February released a report documenting sexual violence and other human rights abuses carried out by forces loyal to both Gbagbo and Ouattara. AI called on both men to issue clear instructions to all their armed supporters to comply with human rights law. Furthermore, the report declared that impartial and thorough judicial investigations into human rights violations must be conducted to bring those responsible to justice. In its 31 March statement, AI warned that “civilians are at immediate risk of massive human rights violations” as the country was spiraling into a humanitarian crisis.
International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a media release on 3 April that demanded a bold, immediate, and effective international response to the mass killings and extreme violence that was unfolding. ICG called on Ouattara and his supporters to take all measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and urged ECOWAS and the AU to mobilize all international partners to react to the increased violence and bolster UNOCI’s efforts.
After months of defying the outcome of the presidential election, Laurent Gbagbo was arrested by Ouattara forces on 11 April 2011 following an attack on his residence in Abidjan. Alassane Ouattara immediately called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced support for. The Secretary-General urged President Ouattara to ensure that there was no retaliation against Gbabgo supporters. Amnesty International echoed this concern in its statement on 12 April 2011 in which the organization declared that “perceived supporters of former Côte d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo are at risk of violent reprisals, despite President Alassane Ouattara’s call for Ivorians to “abstain from all forms of reprisals and violence”.
In speaking before the UN Security Council on 10 May 2011, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, stated that “the humanitarian situation remains precarious” as “access to those in need in Abidjan and elsewhere continues to be hampered by pockets of instability due to violence by militias.” In addition to insecurity caused by militia attacks, according to a 3 May UNHCR news report, there are still approximately 200,000 IDPs in western Cote d’Ivoire, with an additional 175,000 registered refugees in neighboring states. Liberia is presently hosting the majority of the refugee population as 160,000 Ivoirians are residing within the West African state. Côte d’Ivoire now faces many challenges as a result of the far reaching effects of the crisis, including the restoration of peace and security, the prevention of further human rights abuses, and the delivery of humanitarian aid. Alassane Ouattara’s government must now foster peace and reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire and insure that those responsible for gross human rights violations are held accountable. The country must continue to be monitored and if it is determined that crimes against humanity occurred then the proper course of investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court must take place.
UN Photos / Basile Zoma