50 dead in Ivory Coast as human rights abuses grow: UN

Sunday, December 19, 2010

NEW YORK/GENEVA/PARIS - More than 50 people have been killed and “massive violations of human rights” have taken place in Ivory Coast since Thursday, the UN human rights chief said Sunday as the West African nation swings closer to civil war.

Ivory Coast faces growing unrest as Laurent Gbagbo, backed by the army, resists international pressure to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, the man the world recognises as the rightful winner of last month’s presidential polls.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) had received reports of hundreds of people being abducted by pro-Gbagbo military and militia, with some of them later being found dead.

“When people are victims of extrajudicial killings there must be an investigation, and there must be accountability,” Pillay said. “However, the deteriorating security conditions in the country and the interference with freedom of movement of UN personnel have made it difficult to investigate the large number of human rights violations reported.”

Pro-Gbagbo forces have held the economic capital Abidjan in a tight grip since Thursday, when soldiers opened fire on pro-Ouattara protesters trying to wrest control of state television from the regime. Gbagbo’s camp say 20 people died, 10 of them military, while Ouattara’s party say at least 30 protestors were killed.

Gbagbo is refusing to bow to wide international pressure - including the threat of sanctions from the European Union and unusually fierce criticism from the African Union and individual African states - and still controls the reins of power.

The electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner of the polls - a resulted ratified by ONUCI - only for a Gbagbo ally on the constitutional council to overturn the result by excluding votes from Ouattara strongholds in the north of the country.

A defiant Gbagbo Saturday demanded that ONUCI and around 900 troops from former colonial ruler France leave the country - an order immediately dismissed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Any attack on UN forces will be an attack on the international community and those responsible for these actions will be held accountable,” Ban said.

“The UN mission in Ivory Coast will fulfill its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on UN peacekeepers.”

Gbagbo has accused ONUCI, which has around 10,000 troops stationed in Ivory Coast, of backing pro-Ouattara rebels.

A UN patrol entering headquarters was fired on by six unidentified armed men Friday night. No injuries were reported.

Ouattara is attempting to run an alternative government from Abidjan’s Golf Hotel, protected by ONUCI and soldiers from former northern rebel group New Forces.

France’s former prime minister Laurent Fabius Sunday said Ouattara had told him by telephone that “fear and terror reigns in the city” and that Gbagbo was attempting to cut off food and medical supplies to the hotel.

November’s much-delayed elections were aimed at ending a decade of crisis in the world’s largest cocoa grower.

Instead, they have threatened to reignite the 2002 civil war that split the country into the mainly Muslim north and Christian south.

Ivory Coast was plunged into war when Gbagbo, who came to power in the wake of violent demonstrations at the 2000 presidential elections, survived a coup attempt.

A 2007 peace deal brought the northern rebels into government, but the north-south divisions have never gone away.

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