5 Things You Should Know About Enforced Disappearances

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.

Here are five facts you should know on August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.


Biting the Bullet – Why the Arms Trade Treaty Must Regulate Ammunition

By Conor Fortune, News Writer at Amnesty International

This post is part of a special series on the Arms Trade Treaty. From March 18-28, world leaders from more than 150 countries are gathering for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York. An Amnesty International delegation with representatives from every world region is participating and will be pressing leaders to agree to a strong treaty that upholds international human rights law.

“When she came out she was covered in blood. There are two bullets still in her head.”

No mother should ever have to utter such a chilling line about her child. But in Côte d’Ivoire, one woman recently told our researchers the harrowing story of how her 12-year-old girl survived a deadly attack on their village in the west of the country amid the post-election violence of early 2011.

The guns and ammunition used by Dozo militias were among those illegally smuggled into the country via Burkina Faso, in contravention of a UN arms embargo in place since 2004. Since before the embargo, weapons and ammunition were irresponsibly shipped to both sides in the Ivorian armed conflict.


Women Need a Strong Arms Trade Treaty

The following post is by Alice Dahle, a member of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Co-group.

In an interview with an Amnesty International researcher last year, a female survivor of armed violence in the Cote d’Ivoire told her story.

“On Saturday [18 December 2010] they took me and five other women into a room. It was in the morning. There were three of them. They told us to undress. I refused. One of them hit me with his knife. I told him it was not human. He said: ‘We will see about that’. He took his gun out and I was obliged to yield.”

The threat from a knife might have been challenged, but the use of a firearm made the situation non-negotiable and prevented five women from protecting themselves.

Tragically, this is not an isolated case. It could also be taking place in Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the great majority of gun owners around the world are men, women and girls are disproportionately affected by gun violence. All too often, having a gun empowers and emboldens the individual holding the weapon to take advantage of those perceived as easy targets. Discrimination against women and girls, and their unequal status and power in many societies, make them more vulnerable and easy targets for an armed aggressor. Even when armed conflict is officially over, the culture of violence and the presence of surplus guns result in continued gender-based violence in homes and communities.


Hope for Justice in Cote d'Ivoire?

New Amnesty report on Cote d'Ivoire

Between the months of January and April of this year, Amnesty International researchers spent more than two months in Côte d’Ivoire investigating and documenting the human rights abuses that have occurred since the November run-off election for the Presidency.

The result of their work is a report, released today, which outlines grave crimes committed by parties on both sides of the political contest, and continued violence associated with communal conflict in the west.

After what was widely recognized as a free and fair election in November, Alassane Ouattara was pronounced the new president, defeating incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step aside. Between December and April, military troops and militias loyal to each politician fought intensely for control of the country, leading to Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11 and Ouattara’s ascension to the presidency.


Ivory Coast on Brink of Human Rights Catastrophe

Months after disputed presidential elections in Cote D’Ivoire, the country seems to move towards the final showdown. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled the spreading crisis, and the new escalation is likely to displace more people or put them at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

With violence escalating and forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara advancing toward the Ivory Coast capital of Abedjan, Amnesty International warned today that the capital city faces a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe and urged the international community to protect civilians. We have learned of retribution attacks and uncontrolled armed elements looting and burning homes and shooting civilians in the west.

Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa, made the following statement:

Abidjan is on the brink of a human right catastrophe and total chaos. Côte d’Ivoire is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population. The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.

Since the beginning of the week, the Republican Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara have launched a general offensive against the forces loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power.
As the Republican forces advance in the west and in the center of the country, violence has escalated. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Report from Cote d'Ivoire

After spending four weeks in Côte d’Ivoire investigating human rights violations, our research team just returned a few days ago with a gruesome report. Since the November 2010 elections, human rights violations – which have included extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and sexual violence – have been rampant.

These violations and abuses are being committed both the security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the outgoing Ivoirian President, and the Forces Nouvelles (FN), loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the election.

One rape victim told our researchers:

On the 19 December, they came to my house in Abobo. They came in the middle of the night; I was sleeping with my husband and my children. They were hammering at the door. Our door is right on the street, we didn’t open. They then broke down the door, our door is made of wood. They came in, eight of them, four in plain clothes and four soldiers in military fatigues and balaclavas. Two of them took my husband outside and six of them came upon me. They told me to undress and when I didn’t, they came at me again. They all took turns raping me and threw my children to the floor, the children were crying. I was screaming. I don’t know what they were doing to my husband. After, I heard two gun shots. Then they left and I found my husband outside lying on his stomach. He was dead. The people who raped me and killed my husband told me that if I wanted to complain, I should go to Alassane Ouattara.

The political standoff between Gbagbo and Ouattara has also exacerbated long-standing inter-communal tension between ethnic groups in western parts of the country. For example, January 2011 clashes in Duékoué (an area about 500 km west of Abidjan) have resulted in roughly 40 deaths, an increasing incidence of rapes, and hundreds of homes and properties burned and looted, forcing an estimated 70,000 people to flee to other villages and makeshift internally displaced people (IDP) camps. Witnesses told Amnesty that ethnicity and alleged political affiliations were the reasons behind the attacks.

Throughout Cote d’Ivoire, impunity is the norm. As our research team reported, “The attackers are virtually never caught and the victims have no hope of obtaining justice and reparation.” This must end.

Read more about the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and stay tuned to find out how you can help.

Sara Harden, Africa Program, contributed to this blog post

Security and Justice in Cote d’Ivoire

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. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Ivory Coast On The Brink

A week after the Ivory Coast’s presidential election, both candidates have declared victory, sworn themselves in and appointed cabinets. Unfortunately, this means a return to violence and instability for the country’s civilians, many of whom hoped this election would mark an end to the conflict, which split the country in 2002. Instead, clashes between supporters of both parties and the security forces have led to 20 people being shot dead. Among the dead are Bayo Alassane, a man who was shot while on his way to buy cigarettes, and Kaboré Moumouni, a butcher who was shot en route to work. Additionally, the insecurity has led many warehouses to close, leading to shortages of meat, fish, gas and cooking oil and prices of sugar, beef and potatoes skyrocketing. Russia today blocked a statement by the UN Security Council that would have recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner.

Security forces have fired live rounds at protesters © APGraphicsBank

Moreover, with no indication that a compromise is near between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, this violence isn’t likely to stop any time soon. In fact, with the rebel army that has controlled northern Ivory Coast since 2002 aligned with Ouattara, the Ivorian army aligned with Gbagbo and armed militias on both sides, a continued impasse could lead to massive violence.

The Ivory Coast’s security forces, rebel army and armed militias must oblige by international standards and protect the country’s civilians.

Thousands Waiting for Compensation After Toxic Waste Dumping in Côte d'Ivoire

In August 2006, toxic waste was brought to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on board the ship Probo Koala, chartered by oil-trading company Trafigura. This waste was then dumped in various locations around the city, causing a human rights tragedy.

A picture taken on September 29, 2008 shows a woman whose face is disfigured, reportedely due to the dumping of toxic waste in August 2006. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

More than 100,000 people sought medical attention for a range of health problems and there were 15 reported deaths.

Three years after the tragedy justice seemed imminent:  on September, 23 2009, the High Court of England and Wales approved a $45 million settlement between nearly 30,000 victims of the toxic waste dumping and Trafigura.

More than one year after reaching the settlement victims are still waiting to receive compensation.

The process to distribute the compensation to the victims has been plagued by repeated delays. In late 2009 a group calling itself the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire (CNVDT-CI) claimed to represent the 30,000 victims who had reached the out-of-court settlement in the UK with Trafigura.  However, all of the claimants in the case were actually represented by a UK law firm and under the terms of the UK settlement, endorsed by the UK High Court, only this firm – Leigh Day & Co. – had the mandate to distribute the US$45 million compensation settlement to the claimants.  Despite this in February 2010 a deal was agreed between Leigh Day and CNVDT-CI over distribution.

Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed serious concern about the role of CNVDT-CI, whose claim to represent the 30,000 victims involved in the UK settlement is patently untrue. Many of the claimants have stated that CNVDT-CI does not represent them.

By July 2010, an estimated 23,000 people had received their compensation, but shortly thereafter the process was halted for reasons that are not clear. In September 2010 CNVDT-CI began a new distribution process. However, recent reports suggest that the process has once again ground to a halt with thousands of legitimate claimants still awaiting payment. The future of the remaining compensation funds is not clear and we are concerned that the delays and lack of transparency around the process may be enabling the misappropriation of the funds.

We are urging the government of Côte d’Ivoire to step in and ensure that all of those who are entitled to compensation receive it in a process that is transparent and fair.