Cote D'Ivoire Reaches Tipping Point as Death Toll Hits 200

At a special session of the UN Human Rights Council today, the US claimed that the post-election violence in Cote D’Ivoire has claimed 200 lives so far – a much higher toll than previously reported. U.S. ambassador Betty E. King told the Council:

We have credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others may have been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night.

This bleak assessment came shortly after the United States indicated that it is looking into strengthening the existing 10,000 strong UN peacekeeping force (UNOCI) in the West African country, in order to stabilize the situation and increase international pressure on Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down after the recent elections.

The human rights situation on the ground is deteriorating on a daily basis, and we have received many first-hand accounts of abductions, disappearances and illegal detention over the last days. Additionally, the existence of militia groups and an increase in hate speech by Gbagbo controlled media―inciting ethnic violence against certain ethnic groups and political opponents―brings the country closer to the edge and the worst case scenario: a return to civil war. In anticipation of further escalation, several Western countries have advised their citizens to leave the sinking ship. The fact that forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo have started to harass UN peacekeepers is an additional sign of worse things to come. Looking at all these indicators combined, I believe that over the next days, it’s make or break for Cote D’Ivoire. We will see very soon whether international and regional actors will be able to mitigate the conflict, or if the country will plunge into a full fledged human rights crisis that has the potential to destabilize the whole region.

Human Rights Council

In advance of today’s session of the Human Rights Council, we have sent our concerns to Secretary Clinton. Our main demands were:

  • The Human Rights Council should call on the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) to act robustly in implementing fully its mandate to uphold human rights in Côte d’Ivoire. Through UNOCI’s mandate, renewed on December 20, 2010, in UN Security Council Resolution 1962, the international community has tasked the mission with taking necessary measures to end the grave human rights violations currently being perpetrated. UNOCI must fulfil this responsibility without delay.
  • The Human Rights Council should urge the international community to ensure that UNOCI is provided immediately with all resources needed to implement its mandate and end the alarming escalation in human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire.
  • The Council should recall the declaration made by Côte d’Ivoire before the International Criminal Court that it accepts its jurisdiction with respect to crimes committed on its territory since the events of September 19, 2002. The Council should also call for all those responsible for human rights abuses to be held accountable.

Background on the UN Peacekeeping Mission (UNOCI)

The UNOCI’s mandate includes: protecting civilians under imminent threat of physical violence;  facilitating the free flow of people, goods and humanitarian assistance by helping to establish the necessary security conditions; contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, with special attention to violence committed against children and women; monitoring and helping to investigate human rights violations with a view to ending impunity; and assisting in restoring a civilian policing presence and in re-establishing the authority of the judiciary and the rule of law throughout Côte d’Ivoire.

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