Friday, December 31, 2010

Côte d’Ivoire’s Outgoing President will be Personally Accountable for Deaths and Violence

Cote_d'Ivoire United Nations Flag The United Nations has directly warned Côte d’Ivoire’s outgoing president and his entourage that they will be held personally accountable amid continuing reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, sexual violence and arbitrary detentions following his refusal to step down.

“No longer can heads of State, and other actors, be sure that they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in Geneva today, announcing that she had written a letter “in the strongest terms” to Laurent Gbagbo, who insists that he won November’s run-off elections despite international recognition of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the clear victor.

Ms. Pillay said she had written individually to Mr. Gbagbo, Ivorian Republican Guard Commander General Bruno Ble Dogbo, Marines Rear Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, and Security Operations Command Centre General Georges Guiai Bi Poin, reminding them of their duty under international law to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting, instigating or standing by in tacit approval of rights violations.

She reiterated her strong concern that deteriorating security and interference with the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, known as UNOCI, continue to block investigation of a large number of reported violations.

“We have received reports of at least two mass graves; however, UN human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them,” she said. “Denying access to alleged mass grave sites and places where the victims’ mortal remains are allegedly deposited constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She also voiced concern over continuous threats and assaults against UNOCI, citing calls by newly appointed Minister for Youth Blé Goudé and others for attacks against the UN and “non Ivorians,” as well as reports about the marking of homes with ethnic identities, which could be followed by attacks against civilians from certain ethnic groups.

Yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against any attempts to attack the hotel in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where Mr. Ouattara is based, guarded by peacekeepers of the 9,000-strong UNOCI, amid fears that renewed violence could plunge the West African country back into civil war, a chapter that the elections were meant to close.

In 2002 the country was split by civil war into a rebel-held north and a Government-controlled south. UNOCI, which has been on the ground since 2003 helping to monitor a ceasefire and promote reunification, has rebuffed Mr. Gbagbo’s demand that it leave following its certification of Mr. Ouattara’s victory.

Ms. Pillay’s announcement followed a joint news release by UN human rights experts decrying a litany of reported abuses in the violence that has followed Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office.

Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns cited the number of reported extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and reiterated warnings against the risks of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo cited allegations of sexual violence committed by armed men and called on all parties to do their utmost to prevent such abuses.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, stressing that victims, including relatives of the disappeared, have the rights to justice, redress, truth and reparation, vowed to see that those rights are respected.

In addition, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that hundreds of people have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested and some taken to illegal centres where they are held incommunicado and without charge in what it called “heinous violations” of international human rights law.

Effective steps must be taken by the competent authorities to investigate promptly and impartially all allegations of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punish severely the perpetrators, Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez declared.

Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya stressed the dangers they faced in denouncing violations and urged all parties to respect their legitimate work.

At the same time, UN agencies are rushing aid to nearly 20,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Liberia. The UN refugee agency said it would set up camps and called on the international community to provide more funding, noting that it had pre-positioned aid in the region to assist 30,000 refugees and spent $3 million from its emergency reserves.

“Our teams in Liberia continue to distribute emergency aid across villages where refugees are sheltered,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, listing plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, kerosene, lamps, buckets, soap, mosquito nets and other basic household items. “We will need donor support to keep continuing our aid efforts.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already airlifted emergency supplies into Liberia as part of a rapid scale up of humanitarian operations, including five metric tons of high energy biscuits.

“We are mobilizing food stocks at a regional and local level to help these people, who are facing a grim start to the New Year,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla said. “These biscuits will provide a welcome nutritional boost to refugees, many of whom have crossed the border with little in the way of food for their families.”

(UN Press Release)

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