Côte d’Ivoire: UN Substantiates Reports of Killings, Torture, Arrests and Disappearances

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–23 December 2010 – Human rights officers in Côte d’Ivoire have substantiated allegations of more than 170 killings, hundreds of arrests and dozens of cases of torture, ill treatment and enforced disappearance of people over the past one week, a senior United Nations rights official said today.

The West African country plunged into turmoil after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down after he lost the presidential election to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, who has been recognized by the international community, including the UN, as the duly elected president of Côte d’Ivoire.

“Between 16 and 21 December, human rights officers have substantiated allegations of 173 killings, 90 instances of torture and ill treatment, 471 arrests and detentions and 24 cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances,” said Kyung-wha Kang, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an address to a special session convened by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to discuss the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ms. Kang said it has not been possible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to movement restrictions imposed on UN personnel.

“Indeed, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General [Y. J. Choi] was stopped at gunpoint, as he sought to verify such allegations,” said Ms. Kang.

She called for the immediate lifting of restrictions imposed by security forces and youth groups loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, saying such infringements on freedom of movement have also hindered the capacity of the UN to deliver much-needed services and humanitarian assistance.

“The deteriorating conditions and general insecurity have severely hampered economic and social activities for many Ivorians, especially the poorest, resulting in the serious infringement of economic and social rights,” she added.

Ms. Kang voiced concern over the “monopolization of many means of communication,” including state radio and television by Mr. Gbagbo’s loyalists, saying that foreign broadcasts considered favourable to Mr. Ouattara have been banned for several weeks and constantly scrambled.

“Particularly alarming is the use of the national Radio and Télévision Ivoirienne and some private newspapers to incite hatred and violence among the population and to disseminate false and inflammatory information against the United Nations.

“Incitement to hatred and violence are not permissible under international law. Indeed, such incitements can be punishable under international criminal law,” Ms. Kang said.

She reminded leaders in Côte d’Ivoire of human rights norms, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which establishes that the authority of a government stems from the will of the people, hence the need for Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters to respect the outcome of the elections.

Meanwhile, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) reported that severe violations of human rights and acts of intimidation continue in many neighbourhoods of Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and in the west.

Abuses include identifying dwellings by marking them with signs to facilitate the entry by armed individuals at night into homes to abduct people and commit other crimes, UNOCI said in a statement at a press briefing in Abidjan.

To protect themselves, men have been setting up makeshift barricades while women warn neighbourhoods of the presence of intruders by blowing whistles and banging pots and pans.

The UN mission said both access routes to the Golf Hotel, where Mr. Ouattara’s office is situated, remain blockaded by troops and youths loyal to Mr. Gbagbo’s camp, who are sometimes assisted by masked individuals armed with rocket launchers.

Restrictions on UNOCI persist and its supply trucks and patrols are being blocked or followed by armed men in vehicles.

Hostile broadcasts against UNOCI have continued and additional pressure is being applied by making it difficult for the mission to access its hangar at the Abidjan airport and the cutting off of fuel supplies.