Thousands of residents fled from Abidjan’s Abobo neighborhood today in a bid to escape violent conflict between rival supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo (left) and Alassane Ouattara (below) who defeated the incumbent in November’s election in the Ivory Coast.
UN-certified returns confirmed Ouattara’s victory, but Gbagbo has refused to concede. The conflict is entering a new phase, as ‘invisible commandos’ supporting Ouattara have emerged in the economic capital of Abidjan and fighting spreads towards the west of the country.
Pro-Ouattara activists took action after Gbagbo supporters targeted journalists, human rights advocates and civil society activists in a campaign of threats and intimidation. Earlier this week, they attacked a group of women peacefully demonstrating for the release of imprisoned husbands and children.
A new United Nations report confirms a consistent pattern of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and abductions, and warns that the situation is deteriorating.
“With the political stalemate now going into the third month, the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire is becoming more precarious,” says Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Gbagbo’s supporters have intensified attacks on Ouattara supporters and independent voices over recent days.
“They have continued to commit some really grave abuses against real and perceived supporters [of Ouattara], including firing live rounds and even rocket-propelled grenades into crowds of mostly peaceful demonstrators,” said a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
But rights activists report that abuses have been committed by both sides, cautioning Ouattara and Gbagbo that they could eventually be charged with war crimes.
Several activists have received death threats, including Nahouala Soro, deputy secretary-general of the Ivorian Movement for Human Rights (MIDH) and Traore Wodjo Fini, president of the Cote d’Ivoire African Union Club (Club UACI) and coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Peace and Democratic Development (COSOPCI).
A coalition of human rights groups has called for an end to all acts of intimidation and threats against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society.
The authorities should guarantee that human rights defenders in Cote d’Ivoire are able to undertake their activities “without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions,” said a statement from Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN) and the Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CIDDH).
MIDH and Club UACI are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.