It is Urgent to Prevent the Escalation to a Civil War

An FIDH mission has just returned from Abidjan and reports that the situation prevailing in Cote d’Ivoire is extremely worrisome. The mission’s conclusions reveal several signs indicating the beginnings of a civil war. FIDH urges the international community to intensify its efforts to put an end to this crisis and to avoid being the witness of a human catastrophe which is already causing a large number of victims everyday. The repression and clashes have already resulted in hundreds of deaths and dozens of enforced disappearances.

In its mission note to be published next week, FIDH reports several armed clashes in different neighborhoods of Abobo, Koumassi and Yopougon (Abidjan) between the elements of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS), loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, supported by supplementary militias and the “Invisible Commando”, loyal to Alassane Ouattara. The mission delegates collected testimonies from many civilians fleeing the bombings, street fights, murders and arbitrary arrests.

The situation there is very serious. There are constant clashes. I have had no water or electricity for two days. Everything has become complicated: schools are closed, the market is almost deserted and prices have increased. Even eating has become impossible” a person who had just left the district of Colatier in Abobo declared to the mission.

The inflammatory speeches, delivered mainly by the Gbagbo camp, in particular by his Minister of Youth, Mr. Charles Blé Goudé, and propagated by certain media, are being followed by acts of violence against the population and the United Nations forces. While clashes are continuing, another "war" is raging: the media and communication “war”. On the one side, articles insulting the President Ouattara are being published and constant incitement to hatred against the United Nations and foreigners is being perpetrated. On the other side the signal of the Radio télévision ivoirienne (RTI – the national TV) was recently destroyed; demonstrating the determination of each side to adopt a strategy of tension. Moreover, on 25 February, the National Press Council – the body regulating the Ivorian press, whose former members have been removed by Laurent Gbagbo and replaced by the latter’s allies – announced the one-week suspension of the daily Le Nouveau Réveil and imposed a fine of 2 million FCFA to newspapers close to Ouattara, naimly Le Patriote, Le Jour Plus and Nord-Sud.

Public and individual freedoms are being restricted: freedom of movement is being hampered by the Young Patriots (Jeunes Patriotes) and armed militias, freedom of press is being flouted, and freedom of opinion is being subjected to the notion of belonging to one side or the other. In this context, human rights defenders, who seek to provide objective information about the situation, are regularly threatened.

The political crisis resulting from the electoral dispute, the embargo and the maneuvers of the Gbagbo camp to maintain control on the economy plunge the country into an economic and social disaster. Ivorians are on edge. In this context, there is a risk that popular reactions may be totally uncontrollable.

Faced with this situation, the African Union’s mediation is getting overwhelmed and the ONUCI is unable to effectively carry out its mandate to protect civilians.

Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to leave the power is leading the country towards a civil war. The situation is degenerating and he and his clan bear responsibility for this crisis including with regard to international criminal justice” declared Roger Bouka, FIDH Secretary General who took part in the mission.

The African Union must not fail in Cote d’Ivoire. The mediation must urgently reach a solution guaranteeing respect for popular will expressed by Ivorians during the polls. Any other result would constitute a “carte blanche” to any undemocratic initiative which may result in further conflicts throughout the region”, declared Sidiki Kaba, FIDH Honorary President.

The United Nations are already hampered in their mandate to protect civilians. What will be their capacity of action in case the conflict spreads? There is a risk that the UN be relegated to the role of spectator. “The ONUCI should be immediately strengthened in its capacity of action – in particular through the effective deployment of the 2000 peacekeepers decided in the Security Council Resolution 1967 – and must show a pro-active rather than defensive attitude; an international commission of inquiry must investigate on the serious human rights violations reported; and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court must open an investigation on the crimes committed in Cote d’Ivoire” affirmed Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

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