By Erwin Knippenberg, Cote d’Ivoire Country Specialist
As ECOWAS negotiators entered a second round of talks with incumbent president Gbagbo, security and justice for Ivorian citizens must remain the main concern. Any violators of human rights can and should be held accountable to the ICC.
According to the UN, Gbago backers are responsible for 173 deaths since the election and 90 cases of torture. Armed groups still conduct nightraids in certain neighborhoods, beating up or kidnapping people perceived as opponents to the regime. The situation could still escalate into full civil war and ethnic cleansing. We see government sponsored hate speech aimed at immigrants and attacks on peacekeepers as bad omens. In Rwanda, such racist rhetoric mixed with political concerns escalated into genocide. We cannot allow this to happen again.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have pledged to protect civilians, and Gbagbo explicitly condemned any groups involved in these atrocities. Yet, forces loyal to him continue in their rhetoric and have blocked UN investigations into reports of two mass graves.
Instead, Gbagbo has ordered the UN force to leave, citing violations of his country’s national sovereignty, specifically targeting France. Some of his supporters have even attacked UN peacekeepers.
Amnesty International has outlined its official position on Cote d’Ivoire, emphasizing the protection of human rights and the importance of holding violators accountable.
While negotiations continue, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) is best able to defend human rights, and must remain. Both parties are responsible for supporting UNOCI in this mission, and should not seek to obstruct its mission.
Peace and Justice in Cote d’Ivoire are not mutually exclusive. Only by enforcing the respect of human rights can we start healing the deep wounds created by civil war, and avoid a return to conflict.
ECOWAS has taken on a crucial role as regional mediator. They’ve taken a firm stance on Cote d’Ivoire so far, cutting off Gbagbo’s finances and threatening to use force to remove him. Amnesty takes no position on the issue of legitimacy, but emphasizes that ECOWAS must prioritize security for Ivorian citizens and justice for the victims of human rights abuses.
The international community should provide UNOCI with all resources necessary for it to defend human rights in Cote d’Ivoire. It should also remind Cote d’Ivoire that, by its own consent, serious human rights violations fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Those responsible will be held accountable.