Global perspective Human stories

UN envoy urges protection from sexual violence amid Côte d'Ivoire crisis

UN envoy urges protection from sexual violence amid Côte d'Ivoire crisis

Women who fled their villages collect water in Guiglo, western Côte d’Ivoire
The United Nations envoy on sexual violence in conflict has called on authorities in Côte d'Ivoire to swiftly investigate reported rapes that have occurred during the post-election crisis and to ensure better protection for women and girls in the West African nation.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the employment of sexual violence as a means to political ends. From preliminary information, it seems that the assaults follow carefully selected political targeting,” Margot Wallström said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

The country has been in turmoil since early December when Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's UN-certified and internationally recognized victory in November's run-off election. The crisis has been marked by a growing number of violent incidents against civilians, thousands of whom have been uprooted from their homes, particularly in the west of the country.

Ms. Wallström noted that the security situation for women and girls has “deteriorated” in the western parts of the country, where there are over 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) – most of them women and children.

“I call for urgent steps to be taken to avert the risk of increased sexual violence and to ensure the protection of civilians, especially women and girls,” she stated.

“I expect the authorities to investigate these incidents swiftly and thoroughly. It is important not only to get an accurate picture of what has happened, but also to clarify who has perpetrated the suspected human rights violations.

“Ultimately, it is crucial that the perpetrators are held accountable and that the victims of all forms of sexual violence in Côte d'Ivoire see justice done.”

The UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), through its Human Rights Division, has received reports of 11 new cases of people who had been killed, bringing the number of deaths reported since 16 December 2010 to 271, spokesperson Kenneth Blackman told a news conference in the country's commercial capital, Abidjan, today. The Division also recorded four cases of disappearances and three rapes, he added.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of UNOCI, Y. J. Choi, is on his way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend an African Union summit which is due to discuss Côte d'Ivoire. Earlier this week, he met with a delegation of Ivorian kings and traditional chiefs as part of UNOCI's regular contact with different actors who wish to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.