SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Updated as of May 2011
While human rights defenders - with the exception of journalists covering sensitive topics - were able to work for the promotion and protection of human rights without any major obstacles in 2010, they were the first to be targeted by media smear campaigns and death threats during the political crisis which accompanied the protests against the election results from December 2010 to April 2011. This prevented them from carrying out their activities and forced many to flee the country.
On October 31 and November 28, 2010, the Ivorian electorate massively came out to elect the President of the Republic. The elections were viewed as a step towards pulling this deeply divided country out of a protracted politico-military crisis1. While the results of the first round were largely uncontested, the second round opposing Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, the candidate of the Presidential Majority (La majorité présidentielle - LMP), and Mr. Alassane Ouattara representing the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace party (Rassemblement des Houphouétistes pour la démocratie et la paix - RHDP), witnessed a radicalisation of the discourse. This development followed the refusal by Mr. Gbagbo’s camp to accept his loss to Mr. Ouattara, proclaimed winner by the Independent Electoral Commission (Commission électorale indépendante - CEI)2 and recognised as such by the international community3. All attempts under the aegis of the international community to mediate the crisis failed one after the other. After several weeks of stalemate, accompanied by a reprisal campaign by the defence and security forces (Forces de défense et de sécurité - FDS) backed by pro-Gbagbo clan militias against RHDP supporters or people suspected of being so because of their origin or place of residence, the violence escalated into armed clashes in several locations in the west and south of the country. While pro-Gbagbo forces multiplied abuses against the civilian population and used heavy weapons in Abidjan, violations were also committed by pro-Ouattara forces against civilians suspected of being favourable to Mr. Gbagbo4. In mid-March 2011, the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire - FRCI), the new name of New Forces (Forces nouvelles), launched a military offensive, which was accompanied by extrajudicial executions, rape, looting and acts of retaliation against civilians by the armed forces of both sides5. Despite the arrest of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo and a number of his supporters on April 11, 2011 after several days of clashes in Abidjan, the violence had still not ended by late April, notably in Abidjan’s Yopougon district and in the west of the country. On April 12, 2011, President Ouattara announced the opening of legal proceedings against Mr. Gbagbo, members of his family and his entourage, as well as the creation of a commission of inquiry into the crimes committed during the pre-election crisis. For its part, the Human Rights Council decided on March 25, 2011 to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the post-election violence6.
In parallel, while independent journalists such as those close to one of the rival camps or suspected of being so, were subjected to arbitrary arrest, acts of intimidation and threats from the beginning of the crisis7, some of Cote d’Ivoire’s highly polarised media contributed largely to the disinformation, fuelling hatred between communities. Foreign media were also attacked by both sides as of December 2010 and during the last days of fighting in Abidjan.
In addition, following controversy over the establishment of the electoral list and the dissolution of the Government and the CEI, the police violently suppressed demonstrations organised by the RHDP in several cities in 2010. According to the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), several people were summarily executed or victims of ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest by the police, while protesters looted and destroyed public and private buildings such as police stations, courts and the premises of the Ivorian Popular Front (Front populaire ivoirien - FPI)8. Most of the perpetrators of these acts, as well as people responsible for serious human rights abuses committed over several years - including those involved in violent communal and land disputes in the west of the country that continued to take a heavy toll in 2010 and 2011 - had still not been punished as of late April 2011.
Threats and intimidation against human rights defenders calling for the safeguard of democracy and respect for the election results
In this extremely polarised context, human rights defenders were the target of threats and intimidation by both sides, which systematically reproached them - according to the content of their interventions - for supporting their rivals. For example, several members of the Ivorian Civil Society Convention (Convention de la société civile ivoirienne - CSCI), a coalition of Ivorian organisations that monitored the elections, had to leave the country in March 2011 for fear of reprisals. On February 8, 2011, Mr. Patrick N’Gouan, National Coordinator of the CSCI, was subjected to verbal abuse by telephone and media attacks, particularly in the Patriote, a pro-Ouattara newspaper, alleging that he had joined the “side of those who encourage Gbagbo and his clan in their attempt to confiscate the State power”. This followed comments by Mr. N’Gouan in a UNOCI radio broadcast on February 7 and 8, 2011, regarding the African Union panel mandated to resolve the Ivorian crisis. The threats intensified when the CSCI issued its report on the elections on February 24, 2011, concluding that the irregularities noted during election monitoring were “not likely to significantly tarnish the integrity and credibility of the ballot”. Mr. N’Gouan received threats and insults by SMS from supporters of Mr. Gbagbo. Consequently, and in the view of the increasing insecurity in Abidjan, Mr. N’Gouan left the country on March 20, 20119. Similarly, Mr. Jean Bosson, a project chief with the CSCI monitoring mission, received anonymous threats by telephone accusing him of being an “enemy of the nation”. In view of these threats and after the CSCI headquarters office was burgled on March 22, Mr. Bosson left the country on March 2610. Prior to this, Mr. Traoré Wodjo Fini, General Coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Peace and Democratic Development in Côte d’Ivoire (Coalition de la société civile pour la paix et le développement démocratique en Côte d’Ivoire - COSOPCI) and Chairman of the African Union Club of Côte d’Ivoire (Club Union africaine Côte d’Ivoire - Club UACI), received anonymous death threats by telephone after returning from the World Social Forum (WSF) on February 14, 2011. At the WSF, Mr. Traoré had called on all sides to respect the outcome of the elections as proclaimed by the CEI. Faced with increasing threats, Mr. Traoré fled the country on February 29, 2011. After his departure, the Club UACI in Abidjan continued to receive threatening telephone calls11. In another instance, Mr. Armand Behibro Kouadio, a member of Amnesty International Côte d’Ivoire, started to receive death threats from the Student and School Federation of Côte d’Ivoire (Fédération estudiantine et scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire - FESCI) following the second round of the election because of his views on the degree of regularity in the electoral process. Following these threats, he left the country on January 9, 201112.
Harassment and smear campaigns against defenders aiming at muzzling their denunciation of human rights violations
Although civil society denounced the increase and severity of human rights violations during the weeks following the elections, human rights defenders subjected to intimidation, threats and a regular media campaign aiming at discrediting them in the eyes of Ivorian public opinion, subsequently moderated their remarks. The majority even stopped taking public positions on the issue, imposing self-censorship for fear of reprisals.
Arrests and acts of intimidation aiming at dissuading defenders from investigating human rights violations13
Defenders were thus subjected to arrests and intimidation to dissuade them from investigating violations of human rights. Members of the Ivorian Human Rights Movement (Mouvement ivoirien des droits humains - MIDH) were particularly targeted. Its President, Mr. Drissa Traoré, received telephone threats and his house was surveyed by the FDS on December 2, 2010. He left his home the next day after being informed by various sources of the risks he was facing. On February 28, 2011, Mr. Traoré was arrested by gendarmes, and armed militiamen who searched the house of one of his colleagues. Mr. Traoré’s telephone contact numbers were copied and he received verbal threats before being released three hours later after the intervention of several international organisations. In view of these events and the intensifying fighting in Abidjan, Mr. Traoré, who was on a trip to France, decided in mid-March 2011 not to return to Côte d’Ivoire. At the beginning of February 2011, Messrs. Drissa Traoré and André Kamaté, President of the Ivorian Human Rights League (Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme - LIDHO), were accused of bias and threatened by a senior police officer when they went to the Research Brigade of Missing Persons in Abidjan in search of two journalists from the Notre patrie TV station arrested by the FDS, who they were eventually able to meet. On February 17, 2011, Mr. Nahouala Soro, Secretary General of the MIDH and Head of its investigation unit, received two death threats by SMS targeting him and members of his family. Previously, on February 6 and 7, 2011, Mr. Soro had received two anonymous telephone calls informing him that both he and the MIDH were being monitored. Because of these threats, Mr. Soro ceased investigative operations in the field and had to go into hiding. On February 27, 2011, Mr. Moussa Daouda Diarrassouba, President of the MIDH Gagnoa section, received an anonymous threat by telephone. A few days later, Mr. Diarrassouba was informed by a friend that a militia group housed in the Ajavon high school had brought up his case. The friend advised him to take security precautions, which he did. Earlier, the car of Mr. Dopali Coulibaly, Deputy Treasurer of the MIDH, who was actively involved in advocacy and election monitoring, was vandalised outside his home. Mr. Coulibaly filed a complaint on December 7, 2010 at the Cocody 12th district police station, which has so far remained unanswered. Because of the increasing threats it has received, the MIDH closed its offices in the Deux plateaux district on March 7, 2011. Furthermore, the houses of Messrs. Doumbia Yacouba and Bamba Mamadou, respectively Senior Vice-President and Head of Finance of the MIDH, were looted on March 31, 2011. While looting has affected all inhabitants of Abidjan, it would appear that in these two particular cases MIDH members were targeted specifically since no other looting incidents were reported in the same neighbourhoods. Similarly, on December 4, 2010, a day after the election results were certified by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, the Coordinator of the Ivorian Coalition for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Ali Ouattara, who was also the COSOPCI observer in Abidjan during the elections and a former President of Amnesty International, was accused by one of his neighbours, an LMP representative, of “selling out” and “supporting foreigners”. The neighbour vowed to “settle up” with him at an “appropriate time”. The same person had previously threatened Mr. Ouattara at a public meeting in Abidjan on October 12, 2010. On March 7, 2011, after the ICC Deputy Prosecutor had announced on March 5, that the ICC was collecting information and would act quickly if necessary, Mr. Ouattara received a phone call warning him not to continue “to provide information [...] to [his] justice of imperialism”. Following a press release by Amnesty International relating to the bombing of Abobo by pro-Gbagbo forces, Mr. Ouattara was again threatened on March 18, 2011 in these terms: “You Mr. Amnesty, you continue to make false reports about us. Stop. Otherwise ...”. Following these threats, Mr. Ouattara decided to leave Côte d’Ivoire.
Media smear campaign against human rights defenders
The media hate campaign conducted by Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, which basically aimed to demonise anyone who did not support him, did not spare human rights defenders. The primary aim was to discredit the latter by accusing them of turning a blind eye to violations of human rights committed by supporters of his rival, and thus try to minimise the impact of the numerous damning reports that many organisations were publishing about atrocities perpetrated by his supporters, and stir up feelings of hatred among the population. For example, on January 27, 2011, Ms. Salimata Porquet, Ms. Edwige Sanogo and Ms. Genevieve Diallo, respectively Regional Coordinator, member and National Coordinator of the Women’s Network for Peace and Security in the ECOWAS region (Réseau paix et sécurité des femmes de l’espace CEDEAO - RPFESCO), were accused in the pro-Gbagbo daily Notre voie of supporting the rival RHDP during their participation in a seminar on negotiations and mediation to resolve conflicts organised by Women Africa Solidary (Femmes Africa Solidarité - FAS) in Addis Ababa from January 23 to 29, 201114. Similarly, on March 14, 2011, the same Notre voie newspaper accused a number of international and Ivorian organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union, ECOWAS, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), MIDH and the African Human Rights League, of deliberately ignoring the atrocities committed against pro-Gbagbo supporters. Following the publication of a report by the international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) about abuses committed by security forces and militias under the control of Mr. Gbagbo, Notre voie headlined in its January 27 edition: “HRW flies to the rescue of Alassane Ouattara”15. Members of the LIDHO and MIDH were systematically denied access to the Ivorian Radio and Television (Radiodiffusion télévision ivoirienne - RTI), close to Mr. Gbagbo, after the second round of voting16.
Obstacles and attacks against members of UN organisations
Following the political crisis triggered by the contested election results, UN organisations were the target of various acts of harassment. Thus, after certifying the election results as announced by the EI, UNOCI was subjected both to numerous attacks by Laurent Gbagbo supporters, who accused it of bias, and an aggressive media campaign orchestrated mainly through RTI. Investigators from the UNOCI human rights division repeatedly denounced the obstacles they faced in trying to carry out their protection and investigative work in the field. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that UNOCI investigators trying to verify allegations received by the organisation of the existence of mass graves in many parts of the country, were systematically turned back by the FDS. Thus, “a team led by the Special Representative had already tried to conduct an investigation on December 20. In both cases, soldiers loyal to Mr. Gbagbo had prevented UNOCI investigators’ access to the building where bodies were believed to be located. The Special Representative was obliged to stop and leave the premises under threat of a weapon”. In addition, a senior member of the UNOCI human rights division who was returning to Côte d’Ivoire was brutalised by police forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo on his arrival at the Abidjan airport, and was not allowed to enter the country17. On January 27, 2011, the Notre voie daily accused the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of supporting certain civil society organisations in order to conduct a smear campaign against the candidate of the Presidential Majority18. Meanwhile, international organisations had to work in an extremely difficult environment. The fighting and insecurity was compounded by restrictions of movement with the proliferation of roadblocks, attacks and looting. For example, the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had to interrupt its activities in the west of the country from mid-March to April 8, 2011 because of the security conditions. In one security incident on March 23, 2011, its offices in Guiglo were looted by armed elements who took away various materials and several vehicles19.
Harassment against journalists who denounced human rights violations unrelated to the political crisis
In 2010, journalists who denounced human rights abuses were also harassed prior to the political crisis. For example, the daily L’Expression was subjected to harassment because of its coverage of the RHDP demonstrations in the central region of Gagnoa in late February 2010, especially following its publication of an article on February 20 related to the violence committed there by the police during an opposition rally on February 19. The authorities also accused the daily of sending images of the violence to the French news channel France 24, which then had its signal suspended by decision of the National Council of Audiovisual Communication (Conseil national de la communication audiovisuelle - CNCA) from February 22 to March 3, 2010. On May 7, 2010, Mr. David Gnahoré, the correspondent of the daily in Gagnoa, was summoned to police headquarters, where he was questioned by members of the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (Direction de la surveillance du territoire - DST), who forced him to disclose the password of his email. His house was searched, and his laptop was confiscated and not returned. On the same day the DST in Abidjan questioned him about the article published on February 20. Then, on May 25, 2010, Mr. Gnahoré was summoned along with Mr. Dembélé Al Séni, the Managing Editor of L’Expression, and both were interrogated throughout the day by the DST Director about the same article. Messrs. Al Séni and Gnahoré were again summoned for further questioning by the DST on the following day, after which they were not interrogated or the target of accusations again20. In another case, on July 26, 2010, Mr. Traoré Médandjé, a journalist with the daily L’intelligent d’Abidjan, was sentenced to a 12-month imprisonment term and a fine of five million CFA francs (about 7,600 euros) by the Criminal Court of Abidjan for “defamation” and “extortion”, following a complaint filed by Dr. André Tia, the Departmental Director of Health, related to an article in which he notably denounced the illicit enrichment of Dr. Tia. The facts reported by Mr. Médandjé in an article published on September 4, 2009, revealing the illegal training of clandestine health actors by Dr. Tia and his creation of a string of private clinics without authorisation from the Ministry of Health, were confirmed by the latter following an inspection at the scene, causing the doctor to lose his position as director, although he was retained in the public service. The verdict was not accompanied by a warrant and Mr. Médandjé has not been arrested or asked to pay the fine. On July 28, 2010, Mr. Médandjé appealed against the verdict but no date had been set for a court hearing by the end of April 2011. Although Mr. Médandjé has resumed his work, he no longer engages in investigative journalism for fear of similar reprisals21.
1 In addition, the restoration of State authority throughout the territory and the dismantling of the New Forces combatants and militias especially in the west had still not been completed.
2 On December 2, 2010, the CEI proclaimed him winner with 54.10% of the vote against 45.90% for Mr. Laurent Gbagbo. The following day, the Constitutional Council invalidated the results of seven departments located in the north and declared Mr. Gbagbo the winner.
3 On December 3, 2010, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, charged with a mandate to certify the elections based on the provisions of the Pretoria Agreement of April 6, 2005 and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1765 of July 2007, certified the results of the CEI. The victory of Mr. Ouattara was subsequently endorsed, notably on December 7, 2010 by the Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and on December 9 by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.
4 See Statement of the Ivorian Human Rights League (Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme - LIDHO), March 19, 2011.
5 By mid-April 2011, more than 163,000 people had fled the country and devastated areas. See High Commission for Refugees (HCR) Press Release, April 8, 2011.
6 See Human Rights Council Resolution related to the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, UN Document A/HRC/16/L.33 amended March 25, 2011.
7 See LIDHO Statement, March 19, 2011. Furthermore, newspapers ceased publication on March 31, 2011 when the fighting intensified with the arrival of the FRCI in Abidjan. The independent and pro-Ouattara newspapers resumed publication on April 16, 2011, while the pro-Gbagbo dailies did not reappear and were even attacked and vandalised. The houses of journalists working for these dailies were also broken into. See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) Press Releases, April 6 and 19, 2011.
8 See UNOCI, Report on human rights violations linked to the events of February 2010, August 26, 2010.
9 See CSCI.
11 See LIDHO, MIDH and the Ivorian Coalition for the Defence of Human Rights (Coalition ivoirienne des défenseurs des droits humains - CIDDH).
14 See CIDDH.
15 See LIDHO and MIDH.
17 See Human Rights Council, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, UN Document A/HRC/16/79, February 25, 2011.
18 Cf. LIDHO et MIDH.
19 See United Nations Security Council, 27th Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, UN Document S/2011/211, March 30, 2011 and UNHCR Article, April 7, 2011.
20 See RSF Press Release, May 26, 2010, MIDH and LIDHO.
21 See MIDH and LIDHO.
Extracts from the Annual Report 2011 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT)