Two United Nations civilian protection officials today expressed concern over the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, where they said some leaders are instigating violence and hatred between communities and warned that those responsible will be held accountable under international law.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, warned against any attempts to attack the hotel where president-elect Alassane Ouattara and his entourage are based, and where security is being provided by peacekeepers of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).
The West African country plunged into a tense political crisis after the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede electoral defeat to his challenger, Mr. Ouattara, following a presidential run-off poll held on 28 November. The international community has recognized Mr. Ouattara as the country’s president-elect.
Francis Deng, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Edward Luck, the Special Adviser focusing on the responsibility to protect, said that there are continuing reports, thus far unconfirmed, of serious human rights violations by supporters of Mr. Gbagbo, and by forces under his control, as well as the use of inflammatory speech to incite hatred and violence.
“Given the history of internal conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, such actions are highly irresponsible,” Mr. Deng and Mr. Luck said in a joint statement.
Mr. Deng said that allegations that the homes of political opponents of Mr. Gbagbo in the city of Abidjan, the West African country’s commercial capital, have been marked to identify their ethnicity were “extremely worrying.”
The two officials reminded all parties of their responsibility to protect all people in Côte d’Ivoire, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Mr. Luck recalled the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, in which all heads of State and government pledged to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
“This responsibility entails the prevention of these crimes, importantly including their incitement,” he stressed. “We would like to remind all parties in Côte d’Ivoire, as the Secretary-General did in his statement of two weeks ago, of this solemn commitment and of the fact that they are accountable for their actions under international law,” Mr. Luck added.
In his statement, the Secretary-General said he was alarmed by a call by one of Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters for the youth group known as Young Patriots to attack the Golf Hotel in Abidjan on 1 January.
He stressed that UNOCI is authorized to use all necessary means to protect its personnel, as well as the Government officials and other civilians at the hotel.
“The Secretary-General therefore wishes to warn that any attack against peacekeepers constitutes a crime under international law, for which the perpetrators and those who instigate them will be held accountable,” said a statement issued by the spokesman of the Secretary-General.
Any attack on the Golf Hotel could provoke widespread violence that could reignite civil war, the statement added, urging those contemplating taking part in the attack to refrain from such “dangerous irresponsible action.”
In a related development, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) reported that its probe team has been prevented, for the second time, from conducting investigations into allegations of the existence a mass grave in the village of N’Dotré, near the town of Anyama, which is situated north of Abidjan.
“On Tuesday, 28 December, members of the security forces in N’Dotré prevented an investigation mission from reaching the site and we were forced to return to Abidjan without being able to complete our mission,” Simon Munzu, the head of UNOCI’s human rights division, told reporters in Abidjan.
The team, however, saw a building where, according to available information, between 60 and 80 bodies were found, according to Mr. Munzu. “We continue to protest the denial of access,” he added.
He said that UNOCI should be able to investigate the allegation of a mass grave to verify for the national and international community whether the claim was true or false. Mr. Gbagbo’s interior minister has repeatedly denied the existence of the mass grave on national television, according to Mr. Munzu, who also reported a decrease in incidents of human rights abuses over the week from 16 to 23 December.
This week, six deaths, three disappearances, 20 kidnappings and 11 arrests and injuries have been reported, he said. The figures related to cases that UNOCI has been able to verify and confirm. “That does not mean that during the week there were only these cases,” he added.
Mr. Munzu said that UNOCI has not recorded any cases that could be classified as gender-based violence. He also announced the creation of a “call centre,” which will be open for 24 hours to improve UNOCI’s capacity to monitor human rights violations.
Meanwhile, UNOCI denied reports by the state broadcaster Ivorian radio and television (RTI) that its soldiers on patrol fired at a crowd in the town of Abobo yesterday.
The mission said that a military patrol was confronted by angry youths in Abobo and came under small arms fire from buildings on the main road, following which the soldiers fired warning shots in the air and, with the help of Ivorian security forces, removed road blocks that had been erected on the way to its base in Sebroko.
“UNOCI expresses outrage at the attempts by the RTI to incite a section of the population to hatred against UNOCI to prevent it from focusing on its work on behalf of the Ivorian people,” the mission said in a statement.