UN Human Rights Staff Discover Mass Graves in Ivorian City

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–9 May 2011.  United Nations human rights workers have found the bodies of nearly 70 people, apparently the victims of a militia backing the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, in a series of graves in a suburb of Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, Abidjan.

A team from the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) uncovered the graves during a visit to the Yopougon neighbourhood, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported today.

The team found 10 graves containing 68 people, and this included two mass graves – one with 31 bodies, and another with 21 bodies.

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for OHCHR in Geneva, said the UN is interviewing the victims’ families and witnesses to the killings to find out exactly what happened. It is not clear whether the victims were civilians or combatants in the recent fighting that engulfed Côte d’Ivoire.

The witnesses told UN staff that the killings took place on 12 April, a day after Mr. Gbagbo was captured – and more than four months after he refused to step down when he lost an internationally recognized election to Alassane Ouattara.

“The team is still investigating what went on there,” Mr. Colville told UN Radio. “At the moment all we know is that the victims were all, or at least predominantly, male. It [Yopougon] was a stronghold of hardline pro-Gbagbo militia.”

Dozens more people were killed last week in Yopougon, and Mr. Colville noted that the situation in that suburb remains tense and fluid.

The UN Human Rights Council established an international commission of inquiry to investigate the various killings and rights abuses that took place in Côte d’Ivoire after last year’s disputed presidential elections.

The commissioners and their support team are currently in the country carrying out their investigations, and are due to report back to the Council next month.