(HN, March 17, 2011) -- Life for the people of the Ivory Coast is getting increasingly worse. The three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The crisis has escalated since the end of February 2011, with clashes between armed forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara in the western and central regions of the country, as well as in Abidjan, the financial capital.
With around 400,000 displaced persons and the deaths of almost 400 civilians documented by the United Nations the vast majority killed by pro-Gbagbo forces in circumstances not connected with the armed conflict and with no apparent provocation - the attacks appear to be widespread.
On the Ouattara side, armed fighters have begun a pattern of extrajudicial executions against alleged pro-Gbagbo combatants detained in Ouattara territory since the Forces Nouvelles ("New Forces" or FN) gained effective control of the Abobo neighborhood and Anyama village around February 26.
"The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies directly implicated in the grave abuses of the post-election period," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The international community should also send a clear message to Ouattara's camp that reprisal killings will place them next on the list."
Armed fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara clashed with the pro-Gbagbo security forces yesterday in several areas including Yopougon and Attecoube, while foreigners and ethnic groups viewed as pro-Ouattara are repeatedly harassed.
Fierce fighting and gun battles in the cities of Abobo, Abidjan and Williamsville have seen the most bloodshed.
Although there is no reference whatsoever on state TV of the ongoing battles in the streets life for much of the population has become very bleak.
Many shops in these cities have been looted and those that have not have been closed as well as most banks.
Doctors without Borders is reporting that in the city of Abobo only one hospital remains open and in the last two weeks doctors there have treated 129 patients 89 of which have come in with either knife or gun shot wounds.
UNICEF has said that the nation is on the verge of collapse with 1.5 million people at risk from epidemics. Reports of cholera have begun in Abidjan as rubbish lies uncollected and there have been 10’s of deaths reported in rural areas as a result of yellow fever.
In the north schools are closed leaving 800,000 children out of school and although the situation is better in the southern part of the country there are schools closed there as well.
Crime levels are up and armed youth roam the streets with impunity.
As the situation in the Ivory Cost continues to intensify and the country plunges further into economic decay there is real worry that shortages of basic needs will not be able to be met – electricity blackouts and water cuts are among the things people are most concerned about.
Attacks on Foreigners
According to Human Rights Watch residents from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger have given detailed accounts of daily attacks by pro-Gbagbo security forces and armed militias, who beat foreign residents to death with bricks, clubs, and sticks, or doused them with gas and burned them alive.
A Malian man interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how he and six other West Africans were forced into two vehicles by armed militiamen and taken into the basement of an abandoned building. More youths were waiting, who then executed five of the captured West Africans at point-blank range. The homes, stores, and mosques of hundreds of other West Africans have been burned, or they have been chased out of their neighborhoods en masse under threat of death at the hands of pro-Gbagbo militias.
The brunt of these attacks came immediately after Gbagbo's "youth minister," Charles Blé Goudé, called publicly on February 25 for "real" Ivoirians to set up roadblocks in their neighborhoods and "denounce" foreigners.
The situation threatens to worsen further, as a March 7 letter addressed to the Burkina Faso ambassador by a militant pro-Gbagbo group warned. The letter threatened to "cut the umbilical cord" of the Burkina Faso nationals in Côte d'Ivoire unless they left the country by March 22.
U.N. officials say the political crisis has also driven more than 75,000 Ivorian civilians across the border into Liberia, with half that total arriving in just the last two weeks. Aid officials in Liberia's Toe Town say they are struggling to keep up. Augustine Nugba is the local program coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas.
"As soon as the place is given and we receive the government's okay, we will start to construct a camp and to remove everyone from here," said Nugba.
Food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation have brought cases of diarrhea and malaria for refugees, including Victorine Tohogninon.
Tohogninon says that since the refugees came to Liberia, the children and the elderly are getting sick.
If the political crisis is not resolved soon, refugee Charles-Camille Kpehia says there will be no one left in Ivory Coast to govern.
- HUMNews Staff
South Africa backs the African Union in recognizing Alassane Ouattara as the winner of Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
Zuma said in reply to a question in parliament that South Africa backed the AU's position.
"South Africa fully supports the position taken by the African Union on the 10th of March, namely that Mr. Ouattara is recognised as the winner, which is a reaffirmation of the position of ECOWAS," Zuma said, referring to the West African regional grouping.
He said South Africa supported the AU's attempts to find a peaceful solution to the Ivory Coast crisis. Zuma and officials in his foreign ministry had previously given the impression they thought there were doubts over the vote, suggesting they did not back the tougher line taken by West African leaders on Gbagbo.
"We are all of one mind on the way forward towards a sustainable political solution."
According to the BBC, shells have been fired at a district of Abidjan opposed to disputed Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, with reports of at least 10 dead.
Two shell landed in a busy market in the Abobo area, residents said.
Some 370,000 people have fled recent clashes in Abidjan - many from Abobo, which backs the man widely recognised as the winner of last year's elections.
The African Union has given Mr Gbagbo until 24 March to organise a handover of power but he shows no signs of stepping down.