Sexual Violence during the Ivorian Military-Political Crisis

Prevalence of Sexual Violence in Côte d’Ivoire

Neither government nor rebel authorities have any reliable official statistics regarding incidents of sexual attacks perpetrated by their forces or on the levels of sexual violence within areas under their control. The reporting and recording of cases by the police are inconsistent at best, nonexistent at worst. Unfortunately, international NGOs have also been unable to conduct broadly based surveys to determine what percentage of women and girls was subjected to conflict-related sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire. With no credible study available at the time of this writing, it was impossible to accurately determine what percentage of women and girls had been subjected to one or more incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in different parts of the country.  

However, based on interviews with scores of survivors and witnesses as well as with numerous national and international aid organizations and civil society groups,  Human Rights Watch believes that hundreds if not thousands of women and girls have been subjected to one or more incidents of sexual violence. The consistency of these testimonies and reports suggests the widespread nature of sexual violence, particularly in western Côte d’Ivoire.

This view is corroborated by numerous reports compiled by humanitarian organizations. For instance, a 2004 report by a local human rights group in the hard hit western province called 18 Montagnes (or the Region of Eighteen Mountains) stated that between November 2002 and June 2004, 122 cases of rape were reported More notably, it also included estimates that two out of every five women were victims of such sexual abuse among those interviewed during a field investigation into abuses committed against the civilian population in some 20 villages.14 Other local NGOs reported similarly high numbers of sexual violence into 2004.15 An aid agency active in both government- and rebel-held areas in western Côte d’Ivoire registered over 2,700 people seeking information and assistance in 2005 for victims of sexual violence, mostly for residual trauma related to violations committed between 2002 and 2003.16  

The Ivorian Ministry of the Family, Women, and Children17 has a gender program and a Regulation and Protection Office (Direction de la Réglementation et de la Protection) and is technically responsible for receiving victims of violence and for orienting victims to specialized services. At the time of writing, this committee had collected information on 473 cases of sexual violence. Within the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Security, and the Handicapped (Ministère de la Solidarité, de la Sécurité Sociale, et des Handicapés), the National Program for Persons Displaced by War (Programme national de prise en charge des personnes deplacées de guerre) found that one third of the women treated were victims of sexual violence.18

A 2005 study by one international organization documented sexual violence against children in the rebel- and government-held west; it is based on a survey of 147 children who had been associated with an armed faction. Fifty-six percent of cases of sexual violence reported in this study took place during active fighting, but 35 percent had taken place since the end of active hostilities. According to the study, a high percentage of girls has lived and continues to live in fear of being sexually attacked; a similarly high percentage of mothers share this concern for their female children. When asked, “[w]hat are the security problems that women and children face in the community?” respondents’ answers revealed that fear of sexual violence ranked higher than extortion, forced labor, killings, threats, or other forms of physical violence. “Armed men” (often unidentified) were most often identified as the perpetrators of rape. The study found that 56 percent of the cases of sexual violence against children declared in the survey were reported by children aged 13 to 18. Children aged five to twelve suffered 41 percent of the cases declared. Children under the age of five suffered three percent of the cases declared.19

It was impossible at the time of writing to accurately determine what number or percentage of women and girls were abducted and later used as sex slaves, or were sexually abused after being “recruited” by armed groups. It is also unclear how many remain under the control of their “husbands” or have returned to their village of origin.

However, one indication of what happened to women and girls taken by armed groups emerges from an unpublished study by an international aid agency that helps children associated with armed conflict to return home.20 The study calculated that roughly 35 percent of the children who demobilized themselves (instead of waiting for an official demobilization program) in the west were girls, 30 percent of whom reported that they were raped and 35 percent of whom reported that they witnessed the rape of other girls.21 The report noted that the proportion of teen mothers was extremely elevated, ranging from 28 percent to 75 percent in different communities.22 Although not all of the teen mothers spoke openly of rape, it is probable that many of these children had become pregnant as a result of sexual intercourse with men in the armed groups—rebels, militias, or government soldiers.

Sexual Abuses by Ivorian Rebel Groups

Rebels in Côte d’Ivoire carried out horrific sexual abuse against women and girls in areas under their control, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, forced miscarriages, and forced incest. Women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in their homes, as they sought refuge, after being found hiding in forests, after being stopped at military checkpoints, as they worked on their farms, and even in places of worship. Sexual violence was often accompanied by other acts of physical violence such as beating, torture, killing, mutilation, or cannibalism. Numerous women and girls were abducted and subjected to sexual slavery in rebel camps, where they endured rapes over extended periods of time. Resistance was frequently met with punishment, even death.

Information available suggests that the most egregious acts of sexual violence were committed during the period of active hostilities: from the outbreak of armed conflict in September 2002 to mid 2003. During this period, Liberian combatants fighting alongside Ivorian rebel groups were those most frequently implicated as perpetrators. The subsequent four-year political-military stalemate has resulted in diminishing levels of sexual violence, but it continues nonetheless. Since the outbreak of hostilities, no rebel faction has made meaningful efforts to promote accountability for sexual violence.

Analysis of the Three Rebel Factions Implicated in Sexual Abuse

Those who carried out these acts initially formed part of three rebel factions: the Patriotic Movement of the Ivory Coast (Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire, MPCI), the Movement for Justice and Peace (Mouvement pour la justice et la paix, MJP), and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West (Mouvement Populaire Ivoirien du Grand Ouest, MPIGO).

MPCI was composed predominantly of northern ethnicities (although its membership at both the troop and high political levels included most Ivorian ethnic groups), some Burkinabé and Malian recruits, and the “Dozos.”23 The MPCI was the most organized, disciplined and ideological rebel group in Côte d’Ivoire.


In November 2002, two new rebel groups emerged: the MJP and the MPIGO. They opened a new military front in the west, rapidly capturing the major western towns of Man, Danané, Toulepleu, and Blolequin. Human Rights Watch documented numerous sexual assaults which took place during MPJ and MPIGO’s first major military offensive, which started on November 28, 2002. In 2003, these new groups formed a military-political alliance with the MPCI and became collectively known as the New Forces (Forces Nouvelles, or FN).

Although the MJP and MPIGO claimed to be Ivorians, both groups were comprised of hundreds of Liberian—and, to a lesser extent, Sierra Leonean—fighters. Many of the Liberian fighters had formerly fought with armed groups linked to then-Liberian President Charles Taylor and many of the Sierra Leoneans had been members of the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Of the three rebel groups, the MPCI was considerably more organized and disciplined; it was also implicated in fewer atrocities than were combatants from the MPJ or MPIGO. These two west-based groups committed widespread and systematic abuses against Ivorian civilians throughout areas under their control. According to the New Forces national communications secretary, atrocities by MPJ and MPIGO worsened before becoming a political liability for the MPCI.24 The New Forces leader Guillaume Soro conducted a visit to and around western Côte d’Ivoire in March 2003, which convinced him that the Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters had to be expelled from Côte d’Ivoire. After this visit, Soro allegedly gathered the military chiefs in the rebel capital of Bouaké and told them that what he had witnessed in the west had to stop, that the civilian casualties would cause problems, that the conflict threatened to ignite much of West Africa, and that he wanted volunteers to expel Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters from Côte d’Ivoire. As a result, in early 2003, MPCI leaders deployed troops from their stronghold in Bouaké to the west to expel or kill the Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters and their leaders Félix Doh and Sam Bockarie. The MPCI leadership’s mass expulsion of Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters brought a gradual end to the worst conflict-related sexual violence in the rebel-held west.

Targeting Women and girls Perceived to Support the Government

Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in which the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of members of the ruling Popular Ivorian Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI) party and pro-government security forces, including members of the police, gendarmes, and army, were sexually assaulted because of the position held by a male relative. These sexual attacks were often preceded or followed by vicious attacks on other family members. Several rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how rebels singled them out along with other women related to policemen, members of the ruling party, and other pro-government bodies. They reported that some rebels called them traitors and explicitly told them that they were being punished because of positions held by one or more of their family members. Similarly, local health and humanitarian workers active in western Côte d’Ivoire in 2002-2003 told Human Rights Watch that they had documented numerous cases in which women and girls appeared to have been similarly targeted for abuse.

One woman described to Human Rights Watch how in 2002 she had been targeted by four rebels specifically because her father was a gendarme. The attack took place in Danané, in western Côte d’Ivoire:

My father was in the gendarmerie, so we were hunted, with all the families of those in uniform. The Thursday that the war came, my dad was coming back from guard duty, he was resting at home, lying down. I was outside. Then suddenly I saw six guys coming in all over the house, we heard many shots and the camp filled with rebels, they entered into the house so fast we didn’t hear them coming. And they dragged daddy outside. They shot him in front of me. Four of them raped me. In front of my father’s body.25  

The daughter of a policeman told Human Rights Watch how shortly after the rebels took Danané in 2002, she was gang raped by several rebels who asked repeatedly for her father’s whereabouts:

My father, who was a policeman…was working…I heard shots and ran straight to find him at the camp but he wasn’t there. So I grabbed the kids I could find and my sisters who had run home. I heard rumors that my big brother was killed and that my dad was tied up and arrested. Still no one knows what happened to him. In the bush, my brother and I hid the family members we had found…and we went to the road to try and find food and information. Then the rebels found us. Ivorian rebels were pointing out people to Liberian rebels and showing them who was affiliated with the police. We were pointed out and the Liberians almost shot us right there. They hit my brother really hard, started beating him. I recognized the young Ivorian rebel who pointed us out. He is the one who said “where is your father?” They beat my brother so much I was crying and begging them to stop, and they dragged me off on my knees and my knees were all raw, and they dragged me – and then raped me. My brother had to watch everything. Then they finished raping me and beat me so much I was screaming. They had broken my brother’s arm. His bone was sticking out. They tried to drag me into their car, asking me “where is your dad?” They beat me again. In the end they got back in their car, aiming their guns at us the whole time. We lay on the ground and pretended to be dead.26

A woman whose husband was suspected of being a government spy in Bouaké described being abducted, gang raped, tortured, starved and kept as a sex slave in a rebel-controlled prison in Bouaké from October 2003 to November 2004, as a punishment for her husband’s alleged activities. Her husband was ‘disappeared’ during the same period.

I want to try to forget. Sometimes I have crises. I am alone but I talk to myself. In 2002 the war started. I was married…The rebels came and shot all over the house. They said [to my husband] “you are a spy and you give messages to Gbagbo”…They took him away. I waited and stayed [in my house] for one week. The rebels came back and said “where is your husband?” They shot up the house all over. I said, “I should be asking you where he is, you are the ones who took him last week.” They were very angry at me then and took me to a rebel prison. I found the rebel leaders there and they said again “where is your husband” and again I said “I don’t know.” They [the rebels] beat me every day and raped me all the time. Look, I have marks all over my thighs and legs. They tied me up and kept me naked and hit me with knives and guns…They raped me too much.27

In addition to being sexually and physically abused, this woman was forced to witness torture, extrajudicial executions, and massacres (in which prisoners were machine-gunned). She told Human Rights Watch that she was interrogated, imprisoned, and sexually abused by mid- and high-ranking New Forces officers.

Women were also singled out for sexual abuse on the basis of their ethnicity. For example, Human Rights Watch documented the targeting of several ethnic Yacouba women, a primarily western group widely perceived to be supportive of former president Robert Guei. A middle-aged Yacouba woman described being attacked by five rebels in late 2002: 

I fled to Liberia but on the way there the rebels beat me. I’m Yacouba, so they said to me, “you supported the president.” Then five rebels caught me and locked me in a house and raped me. They hurt me very badly. There was suffering in Côte d'Ivoire.28  

Sexual Violence against Pregnant Women and Forced Miscarriages

Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which the rebels—particularly those from the MPJ and MPIGO—committed especially egregious forms of sexual violence against pregnant women, including those who were close to term. Pregnant women were raped, gang raped, threatened with disembowelment, and beaten on their stomachs in an apparent attempt to provoke labor or a miscarriage. Others were sexually assaulted or sexually mutilated. A woman who was nine months pregnant at the time described one such attack in Danané carried out by a mixed group of Liberian, Sierra Leonean, and Ivorian rebels in September 2002:

The attack in Danané found me in my father’s house. He was the representative of the FPI in Danané. I was almost about to give birth. We heard shots and ran inside. But the rebels came to our doors and they hit and banged. They were speaking Liberian and Sierra Leonean English, and Liberian and Ivorian Yacouba, and some French, so they were mixed. They were saying in our Ivorian Yacouba that Daddy was a traitor. I hid under the bed but they found me. I was with my big sisters and my Mommy and they took my Daddy and put him on his knees because his knees are bad, he doesn’t walk well. Then they told all three girls to undress in front of Daddy. I undressed. They made me do shameful things. They made me parade in front of them with my pregnant tummy. They  were mocking me, insulting me, saying “she will make a boy, no she will make a girl, she will make a boy, no she will make a girl,” and then they said “you have to sit, you have to give birth. Push!” I couldn’t! I said, “I can’t.” They started to kick me, even in my sex, they were hitting us, my father couldn’t stand it any more and he ran to protect us, they hit him with their guns, he fell, they fell on my sisters and they started raping my two big sisters in front of all of us. My sisters screamed and cried. They were shooting in the air and smoking drugs and laughing. After that they finished raping my sisters. Then they started to tell me that they wanted to see if it was a boy or a girl I was carrying and told me to "push, PUSH! You have to give birth!” and they beat me. I tried but couldn’t give birth and they kicked me so hard, it hurt so much. They started putting their hands in my sex, said they will take out the child. I was crying. And they made me get on my knees and started to rape me. I fainted. When I came to [my senses], I was outside, without anyone from my family. 29

Other women who were not visibly pregnant told rebels that they were pregnant in hopes of being spared from rape and other forms of sexual abuse. One such woman described to Human Rights Watch how she begged MPIGO rebels not to rape her because she was pregnant, but was gang raped anyway. This attack took place in 2002 in the western town of Danané: 

I was one month pregnant. They told me I must. I said that I didn’t want to, I have a boyfriend and I am pregnant. But one of them took me. And then each time one would leave I would be the wife of the others. They raped me so much. Tomate is a chief of MPIGO and he gave me to all his followers a little. And it was so hard to give birth because of all the rapes. They said I might die. My boyfriend heard that I had been the wife of rebels and he abandoned me and said he doesn’t want me any more, or even our baby. I am now with his child but I am alone.30

According to several midwives interviewed by Human Rights Watch, some women gave birth in exceedingly difficult circumstances because of vaginal tearing and other consequences of rape,31 or experienced miscarriages as a result of the sexual abuse they suffered, or because of being beaten on their stomachs.32

The Use of Drugs to Encourage Rebels to Rape and Abuse Civilians

Victims and witnesses noted that a number of sexual and other atrocities were committed by fighters who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For instance, one young woman who was abducted and gang raped by Ivorian, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean rebels in a rebel camp not far from Danané told Human Rights Watch that she believed substance abuse was a factor in why the men used sexual violence. She described how rebel fighters raped women while under the influence of drugs.

When they detained us we were in their camp, we saw them and often they were taking drugs. And it’s under the influence of drugs that they acted like this. And really, it’s so awful that really we don’t know. Each time they take women when they come home from war, from combat, the women are assembled in a room and they come, they throw themselves on us, and do whatever they want. They rape us in spite of our screams, our cries, really it doesn’t affect them.33

In addition to a number of survivors who described the role of substance abuse, two men who were forcibly conscripted by rebels told Human Rights Watch that their commanders had obliged them to consume drugs, which they sometimes referred to as “medicine.” One young man vividly recounted how he struggled against his captors when they forced him to take drugs and to then rape a woman in late 2002 or early 2003.

They forced me. I didn’t want to take it. They started to beat me, to hit me. From left to right, everywhere. And on the spot they gave me this stuff I didn’t know, they call this drugs. They put it in my mouth, by force, by violence. With liquids. Unknown fire. When they made me take this, I found myself in another world. My conscience had changed. A war slave sitting nearby more particularly a woman, they asked me to mount her and rape her. I said no. They hit my back, put me on her. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, I didn’t understand. And I executed what they said. What they told me to do.34

Forcing Men to Rape Women and Forced Incest

At times, civilians were not only punished for protecting women from rape, but they were also forced to participate in rape, under threat of torture and execution. A man who was forcibly recruited by the rebels in late 2002 or early 2003 told Human Rights Watch how he was forced to rape a woman the same day he was abducted. Some men who were forced to rape women still suffer psychologically as a result. The wife of the ex-combatant cited above described her husband’s anguish:

I think what he lived is something very, very, very—that hurts. Even I who sit here, even I saw that what he lived is not good. During the night if he sleeps he often screams. Often I wake him up and ask him, “What is it?”  He explains things that happened. He has problems now. Even if I think about what he lived through, it hurts me.35

Human Rights Watch documented several cases of forced incest in which family members were forced under threat of torture and execution to have intercourse with each other. A middle-aged man described one such incident which took place in a rebel camp in the west in 2002:

They [the rebels] asked me to sleep with my sister. And after that they put us in their vehicle and brought us to their camp. They started to beat us again. My sister was in their hands. They were doing whatever they wanted with her. They took me, they asked me to sleep with her again, publicly, and I was obliged to do it.36  

Family members who refused to partake in raping or torturing their sisters, wives, or daughters were punished, even killed. One young woman described seeing her brother killed during the war, in Tiapleu, after he refused to have sexual intercourse with her.37

Forced Witnessing of Sexual Violence

Many women and girls were raped in front of family members, which served to not only increase their psychological agony but also punish their relatives. Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of husbands, fathers, mothers, and children who were forced to watch the sexual assault against their wives, daughters, and mothers, while they were helpless to do anything. One man described to Human Rights Watch how he was forced to witness the rapes of his wife and sister by rebels in late 2002.

One night the rebels came in my house, in my courtyard, with heavy weapons, and they broke the door. They came into my house. My wife had gone to the living room. They started to rape her. And the screams I heard…I jumped up, I went down. They overpowered me, because I was chubby. They took my son, they took my sister. My wife was in their hands. And with this strength they had, we were forced…They beat us. And you can even see my scars. They are black on my skin. On my back. And even on my son. And my sister, they were raping her… I have never seen my wife since I left Côte d’Ivoire. After this, we were in their hands.38

Men, women, and children were forced to watch sexual violence as punishment, apparently in an attempt to terrorize them. One twelve-year-old recounted to Human Rights Watch how she was forced to witness the raping of several women at the age of eight.

In 2002 when the war came in Danané I was [sitting] without my parents in the market, sewing. I was eight years old. When they started shooting everywhere I was shaking…[I] panicked, everyone was shouting, people told me to calm down but the shots got worse. A group fled and I joined them. En route, the rebels bothered us and said “we will help you, come here.” I was afraid of defying them, they ordered me to come and because I was very afraid, I came. They made the families go and kept the young women behind [in a house], and some older ones too. The biggest ones, the rebels raped them in front of me. The oldest [women] were 30 or 45 maybe. Four of them were raped. I was with the other kids, watching. I hid my eyes. I had never seen anything like this. I had never had sex or seen sex before. But they made me watch. Since then, when I sleep, my heart stops. I feel terrible when I think of this. Of the oldest women being raped, the oldest one died right there. Then the body was left in the room with us for four days. Since then, when I see older people, I feel terrible. I worry it will happen to them. It mixes me up in my head. I have bad nightmares, I see these ladies being raped. See violence. I think they are going to get me.39

Children were raped in front of relatives and in some cases, mothers and their children were raped by the same groups of perpetrators. The mother of a ten-year-old girl describes how in 2002 three rebels raped both her and her daughter in their home in Danané:

Three rebels broke in and broke down the door and said "where is your husband?" Three came in with guns. They found me. They stabbed me and I fought back. Then two of them raped me and the other one raped my ten-year-old girl. They stole everything. They burned the house. I was bleeding, my daughter was very badly hurt. I was sobbing, I took my children and we went into the bush…40

In some cases raping women in front of their relatives resulted in the breaking of family and community ties. Some husbands left their wives because of the shame inflicted by the taboo associated with sexual assault. One twenty-two-year-old explained to Human Rights Watch how her husband had divorced and abandoned her and their baby daughter after rebels raped her in front of him near the Liberian border in 2002. She was only 18 when rebels gang raped her, setting in motion the disintegration of her family.

I was in Danané before the war, in 2002. I fled the war and got to the border of Logouatou with my husband and my five-month-old daughter. I was 18. We encountered some rebels while we were fleeing. They raped me in front of my husband. My husband doesn’t want me any more. He says it is an abomination in our custom. He divorced me. I live in very difficult conditions.41

Male rape

Men were forced to rape women and to witness rapes, but men and boys have also reportedly been raped and otherwise sexually assaulted by combatants, although no figures on male rape or sexual assault are available. Few survivors give detailed statements about attacks they have suffered, largely because of cultural taboos. However, a woman who works in an international aid agency told Human Rights Watch about rape of men in her home village:

Many men were mistreated. The rebels forced them to work like slaves and also raped some of the men. Not boys, they were 18 to 35. I heard about the men raped because when the Liberians attacked, we had already finished harvesting the rice, and all of [the food] was stored in the village. So we had to come to the village to get food when we were hiding in the bush. Some men went for us and five or six of them were raped. Some of the men died. Others are still here.42

Aid organizations also reported cases of torture of a sexual nature inflicted against men and boys. For instance, in Sangouiné, one organization interviewed a group of fathers, who described a case in which a boy was tied by his penis and dragged for nearly two kilometers by the New Forces.

Moreover, men were sexually humiliated, as women were. One girl told Human Rights Watch how psychologically destructive it was for her grandfather to be sexually humiliated: “Rebels…caught my grandfather and hit him and undressed him completely naked. It was very shameful. He cried.”43

Rape with Foreign Objects

Several witnesses described how rebels inserted objects such as firewood and guns into women’s vaginas. One woman described to Human Rights Watch how rebels beat and raped her and her two adolescent daughters, and then shoved firewood into the vaginas of the two girls.44 This particularly brutal attack took place in late 2002 in or near the western town of Logoualé.

Me and my two girls, they raped us. They hit us a lot. Frankly I don’t know how I will cope. They took sticks to put in the vaginas of my two daughters…They took wood to shove it up in their vaginas. When they took out the wood they put their hands in. Really, they ruined my children. The blood was running. When the blood is running they told me to wipe it up. Wood, hands…when they were done… they beat my girls again and said they will kill us. I had to clean up the blood from my daughters.45

Another witness told Human Rights Watch how whilst fleeing fighting between rebels and government troops near Man in 2002, she witnessed a young woman being anally raped by a rebel near a western village called Biankouma:

In 2002, we were in Man, but fled when the loyalists came to town, they are the ones who pillaged everything. A woman on the road gave birth to twins, the rebels killed her and her babies…I saw it with my own eyes. I was with my five children. And I even saw three groups on the road raping girls. I saw a woman being raped in the bush, one was raping her anus with his gun.46

Co-existing Human Rights Violations alongside Sexual Violence

Human Rights Watch found that many cases of sexual violence took place in a context of other acts of brutal violence including killing, cannibalism, torture, assault, abduction, forced conscription, arbitrary detention, forced labor, and forced displacement.

An international NGO conducted a survey of 489 persons in the western rebel-held 18 Montagnes and government-held Moyen Cavally regions to understand the experiences of girls formerly associated with the armed conflict either as female child soldiers, cooks, porters, sex slaves, or in some combination of these roles.47  The study found that while they were with fighting groups in rebel-held and government-held regions, girls not only experienced or saw rape and gang rape, but were also subjected to frequent psychological abuse including harassment, humiliation and death threats.48 They also often witnessed torture, murders, physical abuse such as beatings, and forced drugging. The girls described camps as a violent and terrifying environment, with incessant sounds of gunfire.

Rarer but more terrifying atrocities such as cannibalism were also linked to rape, in ways which appeared to completely terrorize victims and witnesses. Several women who had been abducted by rebel factions described to Human Rights Watch how they had either witnessed acts of cannibalism or were forced to cook and, in a few cases, eat human flesh.

One young woman who was in her late teens when she was detained as a sex slave in a rebel camp recounted the terror she felt when rebels cut out part of her flesh and ate it in 2003.

They took me and for a week they raped me all the time, they locked me in a home. When they weren’t raping me I just had to be there. They used to tie me up with my legs spread apart and arms tied behind me to rape me. They’d rape me three or four in the night, they would put their guns next to you and if you refuse they kill you. They killed one of my friends and made us bury her. We were about ten or 15 girls there, being raped. They starved us. The nice ones would feed us secretly but if they were found out they were killed. They cut off a piece of my leg and they did the same thing to two other girls. They cooked it in front of us and ate it and said they wanted to taste human flesh. And they put a cloth in my wound and my leg closed over it but it got so infected, with pus coming out, still today my foot hurts sometimes when I put my foot down.49  

Punishment for Resistance

Women who resisted attacks and friends or family members who tried to rescue women from sexual slavery or violence were often severely punished, and sometimes killed. A member of an Ivorian human rights group told Human Rights Watch that his organization interviewed numerous men who were punished for trying to free their wives from sexual slavery. He described abuses he had witnessed as well as those his organization had documented in 2002-2003 in the rebel-held west: 

The Chief named Zana sent his patrols to go tear women away from their homes and bring them to “commissariats” [rebel bases]. When the husbands came to complain, they were forced to lie on the ground with their eyes on the sun, and stare at it steadily. If you didn’t, then you were beaten. Two husbands were beaten to death. I myself saw these men whom they forced to lie in the sun all day. These husbands were exposed, stripped naked, all day. Women were slaves for cooking, everything. These types of abuses lasted about four to eight months.50

One woman who had been abducted and kept as a sex slave in Danané in late 2002 told Human Rights Watch how her brother was machine-gunned in the leg for trying to save her, and how a few weeks later her father was beaten and probably killed for trying to stop her fourteen-year-old sister from being abducted:  

My papa was beaten and taken off to be imprisoned and probably killed. This all happened to him because he tried to save my little sister. I heard my sister is still held hostage in Bin-Hounien. And I have no news from her. She was 14 when they took her…What happened is that they took me in Danané and started to violate me. And then they brought me to Bin-Hounien to get my things. That is when they saw my little sister. They tried to take her right away. I said “no, please I beg you don’t do this she is too little, you can have me.” But they hit me and took away my papa who also tried to stop them. I heard they brought him to the Gendarmerie de Zouan-Hounien. My little brother tried to defend me but they machine-gunned his leg so badly that his leg had to be cut off, it was just hanging off, we were all screaming. I heard that he is still there, alone and handicapped. I was taken, my sister was taken, my father was taken, and they burned the house down. They killed seven people in my family. Who will take care of my little brother now that he cannot walk?51

Victims of sexual violence themselves who tried to resist and prevent their rapes were subjected to additional beatings, torture, and other violations. One pregnant woman described how she was sexually mutilated near Man in late 2002 or early 2003 because of her initial refusal to be raped.

On the road close to Man the Ivorian rebels found me. They raped me and ripped my sex because they raped me so hard. I was three months pregnant and I lost my pregnancy. They ripped me also with their knives on my arms and legs, and beat me, because I refused to sleep with them.52

Another young woman from Danané described how rebels who were enraged by her resistance beat her and subjected her to torture with ants in late 2002: 

They went from courtyard to courtyard to recruit new fighters. My brothers said “no.” They asked the girls to fight, too. I said no, I told my brothers and sisters to refuse. They got mad at me. They grabbed me and took me and I screamed to my family to run away and hide. I said if I die it is alright but just save my children. The rebels took me in their pickup. My village is halfway to the Liberian border from Danané. They took me into the bush and raped me there. Five people. Then they beat me, and after raping and beating me they took me to a hut where they imprisoned other girls too. When they first tried to imprison me there I fought back. And so they stripped me naked and threw me on ants that ate me, I could hardly feel my skin. They undressed me. Then they threw me into the jail with the other girls. They raped us.53

Sexual Harassment, Strip Searches, Sexual Humiliation and Forced Nudity

Because of the extreme, brutal forms of sexual violence experienced by scores of Ivorian women, less serious forms of sexual harassment appeared to go almost unnoticed. For instance, harassment, strip searches, sexual humiliation, and forced nudity appeared to be of such relative unimportance that interviewees rarely mentioned them unless specifically questioned.

Women described to Human Rights Watch how they never knew when or where they might be harassed, stripped, sexually humiliated, or sexually threatened, whether in their village, while traveling, at work, or in their homes. One woman who was stripped naked whilst in rebel custody in March 2003 in a makeshift prison in the town of Man described her ordeal:

In March 2003 I was arrested on a pretext that I was a spy. They beat me so badly I thought I’d die. They brought me to the prefecture and accused me of giving information to the father of a former student I’d taught a while back [who was apparently a government official], when I was a teacher. They threatened to kill me. They kept me naked a whole day from 13:00 [hrs] to 17:00 [hrs] the next day…I cried, I was so scared. They kept me in the Justice Palace where they had their headquarters. They beat me. It even left traces. The UN mission came and took a photo of the horrible marks on my back. They almost destroyed my eye.54

Sexual Slavery

Sexual slavery has been defined as the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including sexual access through rape or other forms of sexual violence, and includes most if not all forms of forced prostitution. In Côte d’Ivoire, women and girls were abducted along with men to perform forced labor and in addition, many abducted women and girls became the sex slaves of the rebels. Consistent with fairly common practice in Côte d’Ivoire, many rebels had polygamous “marriages,” including with abducted women whom they had forced to “marry” them. Rebels also changed “wives” frequently when they tired of them or when their “wives” fled, became ill, or died.

Most of the abductions and cases of sexual slavery documented by Human Rights Watch occurred in the western rebel-held areas of Côte d’Ivoire, particularly in the region of 18 Montagnes.

After being captured, abducted, or detained, numerous women and girls were raped or gang raped during single incidents or raped over extended periods of time. Many were forced to live with their captors for periods ranging from several days to over a year. Some were forcibly compelled to take active part in the fighting. While some sex slaves were used in camps for forced labor based on gender roles, such as carrying water, cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, others were incarcerated in small, confined spaces where they were kept as prisoners just for sexual intercourse, occasionally even tied up. Some survivors described being considered the “property” of one combatant, which appeared to ensure some degree of protection from such crimes as gang rape. As a result of abduction and sexual slavery, women and girls suffered brutal abuse, enduring beatings and humiliation in addition to sexual violence.

Several former sex slaves interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke of living in near constant fear, with gunshots, violence, atrocities, and physical punishment becoming a daily reality. Most of them recalled with particular anguish the torment of suffering alone, knowing that they were separated from their loved ones. One woman, who was abducted as a teenager in 2002 by MPIGO forces and held for months, described what she saw:

Going from boy to boy is so hard. So sad. I nearly died many times. The rebels took girls from all the nearby villages around where I was. We would see the new girls coming into the camp. And the boys talked about this. They were proud of it. There were four girls in my house in the camp alone. I met many girls from all over the region, even from far away like villages close to Bangolo and Logouatou and next to Man.55

Human Rights Watch spoke with women and girls who had been kept as sex slaves who described having been abducted as children. For instance, one seventeen-year-old told Human Rights Watch how she was abducted off the street in Danané in late 2002 when she was only 13.

When the war came, rebels came from all over…This big rebel commander, Samson, drove up in a big car and said “get in the car or we’ll kill you.” I said, “Why kill me? What did I do?” He said “Just get in.” They drove me to a house, he raped me, he had me, he had me all the time. The house had three bedrooms and a living room. We were lots of girls in there. At least ten girls. Any time you want to go out or try to talk they beat me. Always punish me because he thinks I will run away. Whenever I’d say “I want to go home,” he’d say “No, do what I want or I’ll kill you.” I’d say, “No I want to go home now.” He’d say “No, you’re my woman now.” I’d say “No,” and he’d beat me. For a year I think…Samson, he hurt me so badly, he’d take me rough.56

Some women and girls were abducted off the streets, on rural roads, or in the bush. Others were ripped from their own households, in full view of their family and neighbors who were powerless to protect them. One girl told an international NGO, “I had been enrolled by force in Zeaglo. My father refused that I follow them. They killed him in front of my eyes. My father is dead because of me.”57  

One civil society leader working in the rebel-held west in late 2002-early 2003 documented many cases in which women and girls were abducted from rebel checkpoints and raids on villages in and around the town of Man. He explained: 

I used to teach in that zone so I knew a lot of people and they talked to me, they trusted me. The military were the ones responsible. FAFN [FN], Liberians and Ivorians all mixed up. Especially MJP but also MPIGO and some symbiosis with the MPCI. There were mostly gang rapes. When women went to do errands in the market the [rebel] soldiers would kidnap them on their way back at checkpoints. There would also be cases of periodic raids where [rebel] soldiers would take girls [or women] and goods, then the patrol groups would go back to the camp with the [girls or] women. From the checkpoints and raids, the [girls or] women would stay in camps easily one, two, or three weeks, sometimes more. When husbands would go to fetch their wives and pay ransoms, they’d be beaten. Five young women were kept for three months, so long that the families thought the kids were already dead. When they tried to meet the [rebel] soldiers’ supervisor, it was impossible. A lot of times they took girls from their families.58

A young man recounted his cousin’s abduction in 2003 by Sierra Leoneans fighting with the forces of MPIGO or MPJ in the town of Danané.

One of my cousins was taken by a Sierra Leonean warlord called Idrissa. He saw her in a disco. She is very beautiful. She didn’t want to date him but he would come to the house with all his men, shooting in the air, everyone panicked. He terrified everyone. He was sadistic: he shouted that if the girl didn’t accept him there would be a massacre. They barged into the courtyard shooting. The guards were savages. The whole neighborhood woke up. The family was so afraid that they pushed the girl to go with him. They even asked me to intervene and tell her that she needed to sacrifice herself to save the rest of the family. The mother came to ask me to intervene, she said that her daughter had to accept to save us all from the barbarism of this man. My cousin’s case really makes you feel pity…Her mom died, because she was sick before and the anxiety over her daughter killed her.59

While some sex slaves interviewed by Human Rights Watch recounted harrowing tales of escape, numerous others were forced in 2003 to flee into Liberia with retreating Liberian or Sierra Leonean combatants. Even though the period of active hostilities has long passed, many of these women and girls remain with their captors, both out of the fear of reprisals and fear of rejection by their families. Some women indicated to Human Rights Watch that they remained with their captors because they feared that their families would blame them for having been abducted and raped; others remained because they had given birth to their children, or because of drug addictions.

Those who wish to sever links with their captors have few alternative economic or social options, and remain a very vulnerable group with little or no means of support. In Côte d’Ivoire as in Liberia, sex slaves who have escaped their captors find themselves destitute and abandoned, with no option but to engage in survival sex or to eke out a meager living as low income workers in the informal economy. More than half of the former Ivorian sex slaves interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Liberia had at one point traded sex for as little as a plate of food.

Escaped sex slaves interviewed by Human Rights Watch and Ivorian refugee leaders in Liberia believe that many Ivorian women and girls remain with their former captors in Liberia and to a lesser extent in Côte d’Ivoire.60 One humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch:

There are a number of girls from Bangolo captured by Liberians, who were found in Bin-Hounien and reunified with their families. They’d been prisoners, wives, for as much as three years, handed from Liberian to Ivorian rebels. And many more girls went to Liberia and haven’t come back from there. A lot of times they took girls from their families, and now they still live with them at checkpoints and houses as concubines. These girls don’t know how to go back, sometimes they have kids or they are now on drugs.61

Several former sex slaves interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Liberia explained how difficult it had been for them to escape their captors, both physically and psychologically. Some said they still live in fear that they will be found and punished or even killed for having had the temerity to run away.

Killings of Sex Slaves

While some sex slaves and “wives” of rebels escaped or remained with their captors, others were killed. Human Rights Watch interviewed several witnesses to the killing of female abductees. Women and girls were killed in particular during the internal power struggle between the MPCI and combined forces of the MPJ and MPIGO in early 2003, which resulted in the expulsion of Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters from the rebel-held west. Although this brought a gradual end to the worst conflict-related sexual violence in the rebel-held west, the expulsion of the Liberians and Sierra Leoneans gave rise to a short but brutal surge in violence against women.

According to interviews with local civil society leaders, the staff of aid agencies, former sex slaves, and a former rebel spokesman, numerous women and girls who had been abducted by Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters between 2002 and 2003 were killed during or shortly after their foreign captors were expelled from Côte d’Ivoire.62 These killings happened in two contexts. First, for reasons which remain unclear, the Liberians and Sierra Leoneans started to kill their own sex slaves. Second, the MPCI forces involved in expelling the Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters killed many of the Liberian/Sierra Leonean rebels’ Ivorian “girlfriends” in reprisal killings.

Liberians and Sierra Leoneans killing their own “wives”

Women who had already suffered the trauma of abduction and sexual slavery told Human Rights Watch about their panic when the killings began. Numerous killings are reported to have taken place between Man and Danané near the Liberian border as fleeing Liberians fighters killed some of their own captives. Four separate former sex slaves described to Human Rights Watch how they witnessed the murder of scores of Ivorian “wives” of Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters in separate group killings which occurred in early 2003. One former sex slave told Human Rights Watch of her own terrifying near-death experience at the hands of her Liberian rebel captors in the bush near Logouatou during this troubled time:

They killed four Ivorian girls in front of me. It was in the bush near Logouatou. I said “Please, please, I beg you, let them live, they are my sisters.” I tried to intervene but they were killed. They were girls from Danané. I recognized two of them. I didn’t know the other two but all four said they were from Danané. We didn’t bury them. I wanted to but I couldn’t bury them. Some of the Liberians wanted to kill me too. They said that all the girls should be killed. But the five men who were raping me said “No, she is our wife.” I heard that there were many, many other girls killed on the way to the border.63

One woman abducted in late 2002 and enslaved by her captors in a number of rebel camps around the western region of 18 Montagnes stated: “When the Liberians left Côte d’Ivoire they killed many, many girls they had kidnapped, from Danané to the border. I saw some executions with my own eyes and other girls like me told me about things they had seen too.”64 This woman estimated that over a period of several weeks she saw roughly ten abductees killed. Another escaped sex slave described her near death experience at the hands of her rebel captors:

After two days they took us, we were nine women, most of us in our twenties and thirties. They put us in the back of their pickup truck and put bands on our eyes. We were naked. We stopped. They told us to get out. They said they were going to shoot and when they shot in the air we should run otherwise they would kill us. But we didn’t know that we were all on the edge of a river. Without knowing it because of the bands on our eyes. They shot and we ran without seeing the river. At least five young women drowned that way. The water carried me down. I held onto a tree and I managed to get my bandage off. The river carried me to Liberia. I managed to crawl out in the bush where there were women working in the fields. I was naked, staggering because I had almost no strength, the rebels had starved us for three days. I fell in the fields. They thought I was dead. But they took me and washed me and fed me and gave me water, dressed me. These Liberian women were nice. It was next to the village Bohepleu. I spent one week in that village.65

MPCI targeting Liberians’ and Sierra Leoneans’ Ivorian “wives” in reprisal killings

Moreover, Ivorian MPCI rebels involved in the purge of Liberian and Sierra Leonean combatants allegedly killed numerous girls associated with them. According to a former rebel spokesman with credible information regarding the fate of these women, those killed during the 2003 expulsion of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans could actually be between 50 and 100:

When the Ivorians pushed the Liberians out all the girls who were left behind got killed. If someone designated your courtyard and said that you had dated a Liberian warlord or even one of his fighters, they will kill you, they don’t want to know anything. These girls who were killed were so many…too many. I can’t give an exact number but I have seen about ten bodies of Ivorian girls killed in Danané alone, with my own eyes. And because of my position I heard of many others.66

Women and girls abducted by Sierra Leonean and Liberian rebels who heard of these reprisal killings were terrified. Former sex slaves told Human Rights Watch that these reprisal killings made it even more dangerous for them to escape their “husbands” and stay behind in Côte d’Ivoire.67  

Sexual Violence at New Forces checkpoints  

From the beginning of the war all the way through 2006, the numerous checkpoints scattered across rebel- and government-held areas of Côte d’Ivoire have been focal points for predatory sexual behavior. Abuses include rape, gang rape, sexual exploitation, and sexual harassment in addition to crimes such as theft, extortion, intimidation, beatings, torture, killings, and forced disappearances. Survivors of sexual abuse, civil society leaders, and bus drivers alike described how women were forced out of buses and kept behind while other passengers were allowed to pass, especially in the rebel-held west.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations documented numerous cases of rape, gang rape, sexual humiliation, physical abuse and sexual harassment perpetrated by rebel combatants at rebel-manned checkpoints. One civil society leader who conducted investigations in 2002 and 2003 into abuses in 20 villages within the rebel-held west, told Human Rights Watch that his organization had documented at least 40 cases of rape, most of which had occurred at checkpoints. One Ivorian humanitarian worker who traveled frequently in the west described what she saw:  

I had to travel all the time, and I have seen girls taken off buses at least ten times, maybe more like 15. I even remember a case where the parents were there and they were screaming and crying and the mother begged the soldiers on her knees and so in the end the rebels let the daughter go and get back on the bus. But this [letting the young women go] did not happen very often.68

Certain roads in the western rebel-held region of 18 Montagnes were particularly perilous for women and girls, long after the armed conflict stopped. A local civil society leader reported that in November 2006 a ten-year-old girl was raped at a checkpoint near Bloalé.69 A humanitarian worker described what she saw at a checkpoint near the entrance to Logoualé:

When a girl pleases a rebel there, she has to stay behind, cook, and be a sex slave. In many places. The checkpoint at the entrance of Logoualé was bad, they blocked a lot of girls there. A woman I know used to be a saleswoman and every time she had to cross the checkpoint she was forced to stay and got raped every time. Her husband came with her one time and they took her even in front of him.70  

Witnesses, including over a dozen minibus drivers who pass through scores of checkpoints on a daily basis, told Human Rights Watch that from 2002 to 2004 they routinely saw women being forced or pressured to stay behind while the rest of the bus passengers were allowed to proceed. The drivers described how attractive young female passengers were routinely forced off public transport vehicles. This was particularly prevalent during the active conflict, but continued through 2006, at which time this report was researched. As one driver put it, “At checkpoints, they keep the young and pretty girls, and let the other women go.”71 Drivers from Abidjan to Man, from Man to Danané, and from Guiglo to several destinations all told Human Rights Watch of cases when women and girls had been taken thus by men from a variety of armed factions. Two young women told Human Rights Watch that they were raped at checkpoints by rebel combatants in 2003 and 2004, one in a region near Bouaké and the other not far from Bangolo.72 A group of three drivers told Human Rights Watch how they observed young women dressing in unattractive ragged clothing to make themselves as ugly as possible, or even cross-dressing as young men, in order to avoid the anticipated harassment and sexual exploitation at checkpoints.73

One survivor recounted how she was kidnapped at a checkpoint, beaten, stripped, and raped by a New Forces officer in Danané in late January 2006, apparently in retaliation for her perceived support of the ruling party. She believes she was targeted because she had traveled from government-controlled Abidjan, and was thus accused of being a government-spy:  

I stayed in Abidjan when the war happened. But I had no contact with my parents and my two kids. I worried so much about them…In the end in 2005 I decided to leave Abidjan and I went on 26 January 2006, arrived January 27. The rebels harassed me at many of the checkpoints and asked me for money and said my papers were bad and some of them wanted me to stay with them. In spite of this I made it nearly all the way to Danané…and there again they asked for my papers. The rebels said “You are a spy, we know people like you. You are a liar, this paper is proof.” They locked me up in a little house and all day they mistreated and hit me and threatened me…Then at 18:00 [hrs] they sent me to Danané town to the Belleville neighborhood to the Station Chief [Chef de Poste]…I told him that I am not a spy, I just got operated and I didn’t want to die without seeing my mother and children. But he ripped off my clothes and hit me very hard and I said “Please, please, I just had an operation” and tried to show him my scar but he raped me anyway. It was my first time having sex since my operation and it hurt a lot, he forced me very hard. I fainted. And I woke up and saw he had left me on the ground, naked and I heard him talking to the men outside, then I heard him say “We are taking her into the bush, get ready.” So I was very afraid and pushed a chair up on a window and jumped out of the window naked. And I crawled and made it to a house and they gave me a pagne [a cloth which women wrap around themselves] and after a bit I fled.74

Nearly all of the 15 NGO staff and civil society leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch in rebel-held western Côte d’Ivoire separately and independently confirmed that sexual violence continues at checkpoints. They noted that market women were particularly vulnerable, given the nature of their work which obliged them to travel in order to sell their goods. According to the NGO staff and civil society leaders as well as bus drivers, market women are systematically asked for money at checkpoints. Those who are unable to pay the bribes being demanded are often held behind and subjected to sexual abuse, including rape.

Sexual Violence During the Period of “No Peace, No War,” 2004-2007

When French and UN troops began patrolling the buffer zone between northern rebels and government forces in the south, active fighting came to a halt, ushering in the political and military stalemate of 2004-2007. This period has often been characterized as the period of “no peace, no war.” While abuses against civilians were more concentrated in the period of active hostilities, serious violations including massacres, extrajudicial executions, torture, harassment, pillaging, and intimidation have nevertheless continued to take place.75  

Human Rights Watch documented fewer cases of sexual abuse committed by the New Forces rebels during the period of 2004-2006 than was the case during the 2002-2003 war or ensuing periods of active combat. This improvement was also noted by civil society representatives and humanitarian workers active in rebel-held Côte d’Ivoire.76  

Absent more substantial data on patterns and prevalence, it is impossible to be sure why sexual and other attacks have decreased since 2004. However, local observers and civil society members attribute the decrease in sexual attacks first and foremost to the departure in 2003 of Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters (who had been the most egregious perpetrators of sexual assaults against women and girls); second to the French peacekeepers’ impact while controlling a buffer zone known as the “Zone of Confidence” and conducting regular patrols into rebel territory; third to the arrival of ONUCI troops who also conduct regular patrols in rebel-held areas;77 and fourth to an effort on the part of rebel leadership to address the problem. For example, after the UN-imposed sanctions on rebel commander Martin Kouakou Fofié for major human rights violations in February 2006, New Forces leader Guillaume Soro ordered a reduction in checkpoints, partly in recognition of the many incidents of human rights abuses at such locations.78  

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konaté declared on May 26, 2006 in a press conference that all New Forces were responsible for crimes in zones under their control. He declared: “Everyone will answer for his acts, for human rights violations…this crisis will end one day, but it will not be possible to erase these crimes. It is key to pay attention and understand that it’s different now than it was before.”79

However, sexual abuse continues to occur. Human Rights Watch documented and received many reports of sexual abuse in rebel-held Côte d’Ivoire from 2004-2006, primarily rape and gang rape. Although civil society representatives unanimously noted that the situation had improved dramatically since the end of active hostilities, they were adamant that sexual violence remained a problem. One local women’s rights NGO leader told Human Rights Watch in the fall of 2006:

We find sexual violence up to today you know. Like in Vavoua a young woman was the victim of a forced marriage to her cousin and she fled. She went to confide in the local authority for help, who was a rebel chief. He forced her to become his wife…One month ago.80

Likewise, the human rights section of the UN Mission to Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) documented dozens of cases of sexual violence committed by rebel combatants from 2004 to 2006.81 Some of these cases, which took place in all areas under rebel control, include rapes, gang rapes, and sexual assault of women and girls in Vavoua, Bouaké, Konankankro, Ibodokro, Korhogo, and other locales in the north.

Regional Differences in Sexual Abuses by Rebels

Sexual abuse by rebels did not take place with the same intensity or frequency everywhere in rebel-held Côte d’Ivoire. The extent to which rebel zone commanders tolerated, encouraged, or participated in sexual violence appeared to influence the prevalence of sexual violence in certain areas under rebel control.

Central and far northern territory, controlled by the MPCI, was spared the widespread sexual violence experienced by civilians in the MPJ- and MPIGO-controlled west.82  Since the 2003 expulsion of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries, the west has been more tightly controlled by the MPCI leadership in Bouaké, but the local New Forces commanders in Man and Danané appear to remain relatively independent of centralized oversight.

When Human Rights Watch conducted investigations in 2003, civilians who lived in center-north, MPCI-controlled zones (including some who were unsympathetic to the rebels’ cause) testified that the MPCI generally respected most civilians in the towns they captured in the north, conducting meetings with the civilian population, explaining their aims, and telling civilians that they were not there to attack them.83  One credible motive for this pattern of behavior is that the MPCI initially viewed itself as a liberation movement and wanted to maintain its reputation as such in the center-north, especially where the population shared the rebels’ predominant ethnicities and religious affiliation, and had experienced discrimination under the southern-dominated security forces.

Nonetheless, despite such positive reports and the MPCI’s efforts to curb MJP and MPIGO atrocities, the MPCI center-northern rebels have been responsible for numerous egregious human rights violations, reminiscent of those committed by their erstwhile western allies. For instance, when the rebels took Bouaké in September 2002, they arrested roughly 100 gendarmes and detained them in the barracks of the 3rd Legion of the Gendarmerie. Several weeks later, on October 6, 2002, between 90 and 131 people were found in a mass grave in the communal cemetery of Dar-es-salam in Bouaké, many allegedly connected to the gendarmerie. The dead were believed to have been summarily executed by the MPCI.

Killings were not the only punishment MPCI meted out to perceived government supporters; sexual violence was used as well. Local human rights groups reported cases of sexual violence in which MPCI rebels targeted women whose family members were affiliated with police and other government officials, women affiliated with the ruling FPI party, and certain ethnicities considered to be loyal to the government or simply hostile to the New Forces.84 Most of these occurred in the first few months of the rebellion, from September through December 2002, during which period MPCI rebel atrocities around Bouaké terrified civilians and triggered massive population displacement.85 A civil society leader in a northern town described this dynamic to Human Rights Watch:

Bouaké had lots of Baoulé and other southerners but also northerners. The Baoulé and southerners supported the loyalists and government, and so many of them fled Bouaké when the rebels won. Ngatakro, Aouniansou and other Baoulé and southern neighborhoods have been empty since the rebels came, whereas Koho and Dar-es-salam are very busy and full of life, because they were always Dioula. They are empty because the people suffered abuses. They were looted and also there was some sexual violence.86

When the largely Baoulé population fled, they headed south into government-controlled territory, especially Yamoussoukro and Abidjan. Midwives and social workers based in Yamoussoukro told Human Rights Watch that during November and December 2002, they treated dozens of women who had been raped by the rebels.87  

Amnesty International documented cases in which MPCI rebels raped relatives of government officials. For example, in one such documented case, rebels gang raped the wife of a government official in the Finance Ministry when they took Bouaké in September 2002. This Baoulé woman who was in her forties was gang raped by MPCI rebels in her house in front of her husband and her children.88

In addition to attacks on civilians including the rape or gang-rape of women, MPCI rebels also kept some women as sex slaves. For example, Amnesty International reported a case in which three sisters aged 17, 16, and 12 were “kept as wives” in their own home by occupying MPCI rebels in September 2002. Although the two eldest sisters reportedly were able to escape, the youngest died en route.89 MPCI rebels also forcibly recruited women to partake in active hostilities, almost all of whom were raped or experienced some other form of sexual violence, according to Amnesty International. 90 A twenty-two-year-old described to Amnesty International how she was abducted in Bouaké by MPCI in September 2002 along with multiple other young women, how she and many others were beaten with metal bars and wooden sticks, and how those who refused to wear uniforms were allegedly killed. She also described how she and the other women and girls were raped from the first day onward; during the first two days rebels indiscriminately raped the various captives, then allocated a woman to each rebel to act as a sex slave.91

Moreover, as time passed and the salaries and provisions available to the Ivorian rebels dwindled, MPCI rebel troop behavior deteriorated even in the northern zone, with increasing incidents of looting and rape reported in MPCI-controlled territory by May 2003.

Like the MPCI rebels in the center-north around Bouaké, rebels in the far north carried out rapes and other human rights violations during the conflict, too. For example, Amnesty International documented how in the region of Korhogo, not far from the border with Mali, MPCI rebels reportedly raped several women fleeing for Mali, and slit the throat of a man accused of being part of a pro-government force.92

Concerns about sexual violence and other crimes against humanity were included as grounds for the implementation of United Nations travel and economic sanctions initiated against Korhogo rebel commander Martin Kouakou Fofié.93 As detailed in the February 7, 2006 UN Sanctions Committee statement:

Forces under his command engaged in recruitment of child soldiers, abductions, imposition of forced labor, sexual abuse of women, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, contrary to human rights conventions and to international humanitarian law.94

As the Human Rights Watch mission did not include fieldwork around the north-western cities of Odienné or Touba, it is impossible at this time to describe patterns of sexual violence in those areas. Moreover, in part because of security problems and funding limitations, aid agencies and local NGOs have not been able to conduct reliable work on sexual violence in vast swaths of the rural north. Consequently, as a gender-based violence specialist working in Côte d’Ivoire put it, “these areas [like Odiénné] are a big black hole. We have no information. Who knows what was happening there? It is probably better than what happened in the west, but it could be quite bad. We just don’t know.”95

Sexual Abuses by Pro-government Forces

Since 2000, pro-government forces have been responsible for numerous acts of sexual violence against women and girls, including rape, gang rape, sexual torture, and sexual slavery. Sexual abuse by pro-government forces started in the beginning of the political crisis in 2000, peaked during the period of active hostilities (2002-2003), and continued thereafter (2004-2006), especially during periods of heightened political tension.

Many cases of sexual abuse by pro-government forces appeared to be politically motivated because they were committed against women and girls perceived to support the northern-based rebels or political opposition. Those most vulnerable to attack were members of or were related to political leaders from a leading opposition party, the Rally of Republicans (Rassemblement des républicains, RDR); women from ethnic groups primarily from the rebel-held north, such as the Dioula and Sénoufo; and women originating from other West African countries, most notably Burkina Faso and Mali.

The most concentrated period of sexual violence by pro-government forces occurred in the context of active hostilities from September 2002 to mid 2003, as government and rebels fought for control in the west and south of Côte d’Ivoire.96 Some of the worst sexual violence during this period appears to have been carried out by Liberian fighters working as pro-government mercenaries. Egregious sexual crimes committed by pro-government troops were often accompanied by other serious atrocities including massacres, torture, mutilation, and forced recruitment of children and others.97

Following the cessation of active armed conflict in 2003, pro-government forces continued to commit serious sexual abuse against women and girls throughout the government-held south. Sexual abuse during this period—from late 2003 to 2006—was often associated with key political and military developments in Côte d’Ivoire, including riots, large-scale violence, and inter-ethnic clashes. Of the 15 cases of sexual violence documented by Human Rights Watch during this time, six took place during such periods. Most of those targeted appeared to have been singled out on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality, or perceived affiliation with rebel and opposition groups.

The Different Pro-government Forces Implicated in Abuses

Those implicated in acts of sexual violence include members of the official armed forces and law enforcement institutions, numerous pro-government armed militias, and pro-government youth groups.

Official security forces

The security forces associated with human rights violations include the gendarmes, who have the mandate for law and order in a district (typically in more rural areas); the police, who maintain law and order in towns; and the National Armed Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (Forces armées nationales de Côte d'Ivoire, FANCI), which regroups the army, air force, and navy. Other units function more or less as paramilitary units attached to different forces such as the Security Operations Command Center (Centre de commandement des opérations de sécurité, CECOS), the Anti-Riot Brigade (Brigade anti-émeute, BAE), the Presidential Guard (Garde Présidentielle, GP), the  Presidential Security Group (Groupement de Securité Présidentielle, GSP), and the Republican Guard (Garde Republicaine, or GR).98


Since the outbreak of hostilities in 2002, urban and rural militias have played an increasingly active role in matters of national security, including manning checkpoints on main roads in government-controlled areas, checking civilian identification, and generally taking on tasks usually carried out by uniformed government security forces. Militia leaders claim that they are at the vanguard of forces defending the government, compensating for an army that has been split along ethnic and regional lines since the 2002 rebellion.99 Western diplomats and Ivorian government officials alike refer to the militias as “parallel security forces.”100 These militias have been used by government officials to violently suppress opposition demonstrations and anti-government dissent, stifle the press, foment violent anti-foreigner sentiment, and attack rebel-held villages in the western cocoa- and coffee-producing areas.

Urban militias operating especially in Abidjan include the Young Patriots (Jeunes Patriotes); the Group of Patriots for Peace (Groupement des Patriotes pour la Paix, GPP); a radical pro-government student group called the Ivorian Students Federation (Federation estudiantine et scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire, FESCI); the youth wing of the ruling FPI party; and smaller groups like the Scorpion Guards in Yamoussoukro.101

Numerous other pro-government militias operate in the southwest around Toulepleu, Duékoué, and Guiglo, the largest of which is the Greater Western Liberation Front (Forces de Liberation du Grand West, FLGO).102 Other militias in the west include the Ivorian Movement for the Liberation of Western Ivory Coast (Mouvement pour la liberation de l’ouest de la Côte d’Ivoire, MILOCI); the Patriotic Alliance of the Wê (Alliance Patriotique Wê, AP-Wê); and the Union of Patriots for the Resistance of the Far West (Union des Patriotes Pour la Résistance du Grand Ouest, UPRGO). Most of the recruits for the western militias come from the Guéré, Bété, Attie, Abey, and Dida ethnic groups, or their allies in the west, or from the Wê and Krou tribes. Other, smaller militias include the Security Front of the Center-West (Front de sécurité du centre ouest, FSCO) and the African Solidarity (Solidarité Africaine, SOAF).

Liberian mercenaries

In 2002 and at various times since, the government recruited and used Liberian mercenaries, including children, to fight alongside militias and government armed forces, especially in the southwest. Many government-backed Liberian forces, loosely linked to abusive Liberian rebel groups such as the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) or the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), fought with both the Greater Western Liberation Front (Front de liberation du grand ouest, FLGO) and “LIMA forces.”103 However, whether through policy or a lack of control, the Liberians became the de facto authorities in some of “their” areas, often acting in collaboration with Gueré self-defense committee members.


Victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not always able to identify the particular armed group responsible for the sexual abuse they suffered. Sexual abuse from 2002 onwards was often carried out in situations of extreme chaos by men dressed in civilian clothing, in irregular and dissimilar uniforms, or in uniforms lacking identifiable insignia. During 2002 and 2003, Liberian mercenaries, civilian militias, and official government security forces cooperated to retake towns and territory from rebels. Human Rights Watch was repeatedly told that since the beginning of the war, many of the gendarmes and police also donned military fatigues. Without uniforms, often without clear leadership or ranks, and without open links to the government, the identity of these armed men could be difficult to determine. As a result, many victims and witnesses interviewed for this report could only describe their attackers as “men dressed in uniform,” “the men of the government,” or “loyalists.”

Sexual Abuse during Active Hostilities, 2002-2003

The most concentrated period of sexual abuse against women and girls by pro-government troops took place during the period of active hostilities from September 2002 through mid 2003, and in areas where the battles were the fiercest, most notably in the west and southwest. While ethnically based militias and government troops were implicated, Liberian mercenaries were the pro-government fighters most often associated with some of the worst violations, including sexual abuse.

The president of a women’s association, who was also a traditional healer and had treated many women raped and gang raped by pro-government forces, spoke of the violence by those groups in the battle for the western town of Man. The abuses took place at some point between December 1 and 18, 2002, when government forces recaptured Man from rebels.104

My husband died in the war with my four-year-old child. My nephew was shot in the foot. They came to my courtyard, in Man. They shot in the air so much everyone was terrified and since then, one of my children is not right in the mind because of the fear. There were so many killings that we had to bury my child in the courtyard. Loyalists are the ones who did this. When they retook the city of Man, they raped many women, almost all the women were Dioula…Many women…come to me about sexual violence, both because I am a traditional healer and because I am the president [of a women’s association]. I personally treated at least 30 women, but many more come and I have heard of over a hundred cases [throughout the war]. I just can’t help all of them.105

Midwives, nurses and social workers and confidential reports from local and international organizations operating in the western towns of Man, Blolequin and Toulepleu provided Human Rights Watch with information about dozens of rapes and other forms of sexual abuse by pro-government troops during 2002 and 2003. 106

According to victims, witnesses, and aid workers, combatants from militias comprised of men from the Guéré ethnic group—active in the southwest near Guiglo—were allegedly implicated in numerous human rights violations, including sexual violence, killings, physical abuse, extortion, and harassment. The Guéré militias appear to have targeted in particular West African immigrants, in 2002 and 2003, including those from Burkina Faso and Mali.

Rapes by pro-government forces often took place in the context of other egregious human rights violations. Interviewees described to Human Rights Watch how armed men carried out rapes together with other abuses including extortion, beatings, torture, and killings. For instance, one Muslim woman of Burkinabé background explained to Human Rights Watch how early in the war her community, near the border town of Zouan-Hounien, suffered a number of atrocities including sexual violence at the hands of “Loyalists.”

My mother and father were killed in Miadatou next to Zouan-Hounien. Loyalists are the ones who did that…They came in, shooting in the air, everyone was shouting and screaming and running and then they slit the throats of four people right in front of me. When they finished killing them, they beat the others, so we fled into the bush. The whole village was burned. Only three houses were left. After that we fled…I left because there were too many shots so I ran away…We don’t even know where the rest of the family is. When we were still in the village, the loyalists caught young women and put them in a house, and said they’d kill them if they refused. The loyalists who went into the house to use the girls were numerous, I couldn’t count them. One girl was 12, one was five, one was seven. I saw this with my own eyes. We all know they were raped. They were very little. These girls were crying…I feel very traumatized by all this.107   

Many acts of sexual violence appear to have taken place during organized campaigns of violence by pro-government forces, designed to force “allogènes” (foreigners) off their lands. Thus, for a number of victims and witnesses, acts of sexual violence were often part of a pattern of broader suffering and loss these communities experienced: villages or homes burned, possessions stolen, and family and friends killed. However, it appeared that the inter-ethnic fighting and attacks over plantations in the southwest were more characterized by extreme physical violence than specifically by sexual violence.108 Many victims and witnesses described acts of collective violence, harassment, intimidation, torture, massacres, and the destruction of villages, but stated that they had neither witnessed nor experienced sexual violence.109 In a study on the role of land ownership in localized conflicts between Bété and Burkinabé households in the central-western forest regions of Côte d’Ivoire, historian Joshua Strozeski found a 500% increase in physical conflicts after a discriminatory anti-foreign law was passed, but did not discover similarly shocking spikes in sexual violence.110

Moreover, not all local leaders and militias in government-held territories engaged in or condoned sexual and other violence against foreigners and Muslims. Indeed, some local leaders resisted the tide of xenophobia sweeping government-held areas and refused to join or allow ethnically or religiously motivated persecution. One woman described to Human Rights Watch how she believed that her community was spared inter-ethnic violence and sexual targeting of Burkinabé and other migrant women because of her traditional chief’s refusal to condone such abuses during the war.

In palavers with my friends, many people talked about rapes. It happened frequently…[but] where I was, the village chief was not ok with violence against foreigners.111   

Women Targeted because of their Dioula Origin

Politicians in power from President Bédié to President Gbagbo developed and promoted the notion of Ivoirité, often using propaganda to manipulate social imagination and to foster divisions between two groups: Ivorians who belonged and whose citizenship was beyond doubt, and those people of dubious Ivorian citizenship, who could be reclassified as outsiders. At first, making this distinction appeared to be aimed at marginalizing current or future political rivals from political life. As the notion of Ivoirité gained traction and deepened rifts between ethnic groups, supporters of the RDR political party were progressively targeted as enemies of the government, alongside those perceived to support them: people from the north, Muslims, Dioulas, and foreigners, especially Burkinabés and Malians. Once the war broke out in 2002, this polemic adopted a further interpretation relating to national security.

The former cabinet head for the police chief of staff (Chef de Cabinet du Directeur de la Police), who is currently the Korhogo Police Prefect, told Human Rights Watch of numerous cases of sexual abuse against Dioula, Muslim, and foreign women by police officers. He described how his efforts to sanction police officers accused of rape from 1999 to 2001 were frustrated, and how, to the best of his knowledge, none of the alleged perpetrators within the police were ever punished: 

I was with police for 28 years in Abidjan. I had men under my orders from the south who didn’t obey me; they would commit crimes against northerners, even rape and harass women because they were Muslim or because their name was “Ouattara” for example. All kinds of crimes. I made case files about this and tried to sanction people but it never went anywhere. This all started under Bédié even. For example in 2001 I prepared a report about a colleague for rape, to get him fired, but because of the crisis they dropped the case. The lack of sanctions was a way of encouraging more sexual violence…and towards the end my colleagues admitted that rape happened in times of crisis during raids.”112

From 2000 to the present, abuses at checkpoints by pro-government forces against Dioulas frequently turn routine travel into a nightmare for many women. Although extortion and physical violence remained the most common forms of abuse, armed men at pro-government checkpoints subjected women and girls to numerous forms of sexual abuse, including strip searching, sexual humiliation, rape, gang-rape and other abuse. One girl described how she saw gendarmes sexually humiliating and mistreating a Dioula woman in 2002 at an Abidjan checkpoint after accusing her of supporting the rebels: 

One day, right in front of me, I was doing commerce in Guedyawaye to resell my wares in Abidjan; I was with a Dioula woman. They made her get out of the bus, the police, and they forced her to crawl around on her knees. She was pregnant. They touched her breasts and searched her and undressed her and were mistreating her. This was in 2002 during the crisis.113

The girl told Human Rights Watch that the police shouted at their victim that she was a Dioula, and that the war “is the fault of your people.”

Several women leaders from the RDR opposition party told Human Rights Watch that they regularly received reports from RDR women members (most of whom have Muslim-sounding names) of sexual harassment, and slurs or verbal threats which made reference to their ethnic or national identity. They believed the strip searches, sexual humiliation, and vaginal searches took place more frequently at checkpoints in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro.114

A number of Dioula victims, witnesses, and women leaders told Human Rights Watch how they lived in fear of sexual and physical violence by the police, gendarmes, and other pro-government forces. One testimony from a Dioula woman who lived in Abidjan and who suffered physical and verbal sexual harassment, and possibly sexual abuse, illustrates this fear:

I was selling things in Abidjan and the gendarmes were bothering us. They would chase us and destroy my merchandise…Sexual harassment happened a lot…even to me. But I am too ashamed to speak of it. It happened to many women in the market… If I tell you what happened to me, I will melt in tears. I just can’t tell anyone. In the market, if you are a Dioula woman, they take you to the police station. They keep you and lock you up and many of them rape you. If one finishes the other comes up and there are not enough women then they pass on you…115

Numerous rapes occurred during the government razing of “quartiers précaires” or shantytowns, occupied by thousands of immigrants and “Dioula” Ivorians. The Red Cross estimated that between September 21 and 24, 2002 some 12,000 people were displaced from Dioula neighborhoods in Abidjan.116 During these operations from October 2002 to December 2002 and even later, government forces allegedly searched for weapons and rebels, but more often would simply order out all the residents and burn or demolish their homes, engaging in numerous human rights abuses, including extortion, arbitrary arrests and detentions, “disappearances,” summary executions, the displacement of thousands, and sexual abuse.117  

Women Targeted Because They Were “Foreign”

Human Rights Watch and several other national and international organizations documented a clear pattern of women of West African origin being singled out for sexual abuse and harassment by pro-government forces. Sometimes the sexual abuse against West Africans occurred within the context of attacks on camps or neighborhoods, which were largely comprised of Malians or Burkinabés. Other times these West African women were singled out from others riding public transportation by security forces manning a checkpoint.

Human Rights Watch documented a range of crimes committed against Burkinabé and Malian women ranging from vaginal fingering to gang rape. One local aid organization documented sexual violence against over 100 Burkinabé women and girls in government-held southwest Côte d’Ivoire at the height of the conflict in late 2002 and early 2003, finding that they had been raped or sexually abused by armed men from various pro-government groups.118 The area where the attacks occurred is a stronghold of pro-government militias. A representative of the organization told Human Rights Watch that many of the sexual attacks were committed within the context of body searches for hidden money, and that most of these women subsequently fled to Burkina Faso:119  

Many of the Burkinabé women who were raped went back to Burkina Faso. We did research with focus groups…Women said rape was frequent. They were attacked and searched for money. If they had no money, then they were raped. It started because there was a rumor was that Burkinabé women hid their husbands’ money in their underclothes. They were raped from age 16 up ‘til women in their forties.120

One Burkinabé woman told Human Rights Watch about the experience of her sisters’ sexual abuse at the hands of pro-government forces in a southwestern community not far from the Liberian border. After Guéré militias and loyalists attacked and raped civilians in her community in the “hot times” of the war, two of her sisters aged 12 and 13 were gang raped by militiamen in 2005, and she witnessed a gang rape by Loyalists:

We are from a campement [rural community] with mostly Burkinabé. We suffered. They frighten us and want us to leave. They steal our things and say to us “go home or we will kill you.” [Militiamen] raped two of my little sisters in 2005. In the evening they had gone to see their big sister and the militiamen took them, the girls were scared, one was only 12 and one was 13. The militiamen made them drink. The girls didn’t know what to do or how to get help. Then the men all raped my sisters. We were all crying. We sent them to Danané to get them treated. I left so I don’t even know if they are alright now. I worry about them. Also one girl coming from the market in Zouan-Hounien, she was raped in front of me by Loyalists…I saw them harass her and take her and then I ran away and was hiding and I heard her screaming “Please, please no”…They knew she was Burkinabé because of her name on her identity card.121

Many cases of sexual abuse against women of West African origin involved the victim being strip searched, undressed, or vaginally searched in an apparent attempt to humiliate them. An Abidjan-based humanitarian organization told Human Rights Watch about three cases of vaginal searches of Burkinabé women at gendarme-run checkpoints in Abidjan between 2003 and 2005.122 Another documented numerous cases of vaginal searches of Burkinabé and Malian women at checkpoints around the southwestern town of Guiglo, which is dominated by pro-government militias.123  The victims who sought treatment and help from local or international NGOs reportedly described these experiences as profoundly humiliating and traumatic.

One Muslim Ivorian woman discussed how she saw numerous women attacked by pro-government ethnic Bété militiamen in a predominantly Muslim market in Abidjan in the fall of 2002, and recounted how women who were considered to be of foreign origin were stripped naked or partially undressed in acts of sexual humiliation.

It happened in front of me at Abobo. They came, they caught and then beat everyone, stripped many of them naked, and beat and beat and beat people: Malians, Guineans, Burkinabés, not so many Dioulas though. Young Bété men did this. I saw three women they beat and undressed in front of me. I was lucky because an Ivorian woman hid us. This was when the war was hot.124

In some cases, vaginal searches and sexual humiliations could be precursors to far worse forms of sexual abuse. For instance, a Malian woman who was singled out for sexual abuse in June 2005 described how a policeman accused her of being a rebel because of her Malian nationality, and then stripped, vaginally fingered, beat and vaginally and anally raped her at the southern road leading into the western town of Duékoué:

I’d hidden my [Malian papers] in one of the pockets of my clothes. Because in Mali everyone had told me that anyone giving these documents on Ivorian territory risked abuse by the FDS. Thus, at the southern corridor of Duékoué I was asked for my papers. I told the agent that I didn’t have any and he brought me to a house near the corridor. He searched my pockets and found my papers. Then he searched my bags. According to him he was looking for drugs that I was hiding. Then he ordered me to undress, he forced me to get naked. Then he put his fingers in my sex and moved them around under pretext that he was looking for drugs, before taking them out and ordering me to dress. He started to hit me with a wooden stick. One of his friends joined him and asked why I was there. He answered that I was a friend of the rebels, and that on top of it I was trafficking drugs. Needless to say, I denied all these accusations. He kept saying that I refused to give him my papers in order not to be identified. So his friend started beating me right away. Then the first police agent stuffed me in a white car under pretext that the police commissioner was asking for me at the police station. On the road, he told me I would go to prison as the rebels’ woman and that the danger for me in prison would be that I’d be with men who hadn’t made love for years. So they’d rape me. He asked me if I could have sex with five or six people back to back. I said “No,” and said “I cannot, and don’t want to.” He said I had to choose between him and the prisoners…He drove me to a courtyard…he came to me and asked me to sleep with him, and I said “No, please, I can’t do it” so he pushed me and I fell and he abused me. Then he put his fingers in my sex and was moving them around. These movements produced difficult pain. Then he turned me over and sodomized me. Before starting these acts he put his pistol on the table.125  

This policeman kept her in captivity for a night and a day, during which time he forced her to suck on his penis, beat her again, and repeated several times that she was “a friend of the rebels.”126  

Human Rights Watch documented three cases of rape and collected reports of many more rapes perpetrated by pro-government forces against women of Burkinabé and Malian origin. A leader of an Ivorian humanitarian organization described to Human Rights Watch how she had counseled scores of cases of sexual violence against Malian and “Dioula” women (the term Dioula is often used to refer not only to Ivorians but also to people of northern or foreign background). She told Human Rights Watch that she believed the police routinely raped allogène (foreign) and Dioula women whom they detained for various reasons. For instance, she recalled a case in the early months of the armed conflict involving a middle-aged Malian woman who lived in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Abidjan. She described how she left the house in spite of a curfew to look for her son because she heard shots outside. On the way she was taken in a car by 12 gendarmes along with two other women, and all were raped before being dropped off at the police station. The NGO leader, who had been alerted to that woman’s detention, picked her up at the police station, where she found her disheveled and sobbing. The NGO leader described nine other cases involving victims of Burkinabé, Malian or Dioula origin in comparable detail, and affirmed that she had documented many more cases.127

A number of cases of sexual violence against West African and Dioula women took place during raids on predominantly Dioula neighborhoods by law enforcement officers. For instance, Malian consular officials documented a case in November 2003 in which two young Malian women were raped and one pregnant woman was so badly beaten that she miscarried during a violent raid in the Adjamé neighborhood of Abidjan.128 A woman of Malian origin living in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Abidjan described how she was raped by soldiers in front of her husband on March 25, 2004. The attack occurred during a government crackdown following a protest march by the RDR:

During the crisis that followed the opposition march, I was raped by the military at about 20:00 [hrs]. They came into our house. My husband was in the living room and my three children were in their rooms. The soldiers locked the kids up. I was just coming out from the shower. They forced my husband to sit and watch them raping me under the threat of their guns. This shame prevents me from looking at my husband today. I want to return to Mali because I suffer too much from shame.129

Even more serious were rapes or gang rapes accompanied by killings and torture. A businesswoman of Burkinabé origin told Human Rights Watch how in late 2002 or early 2003 men dressed in government military uniforms and civilians of Baoulé, Bété and Agni ethnicity attacked her and other foreigners, one of whom she saw raped and killed. The incident took place on the way from Abidjan to Lomé, Togo.

I was with a friend who is Guinean and a Malian friend. I am Burkinabé. I was selling things between Lomé and Abidjan. One day we left for Lomé. On the way back, bandits stopped us. They killed many people that day: men, women. They killed a young man with us. We were very afraid. That day, so many people were killed. I saw that they killed four men and three women. The bandits were dressed in military clothes, the military of Gbagbo. They were military and civilians mixed together. We were being killed because we were foreigners…this is what they told us. They said we must go home. Baoulé, Bété, Agni were mistreating the foreigners and we were killed. The police never did anything. One of our neighbors on this trip, his daughter was raped. He was going to Niger. They took a knife and sliced her pants. She was raped there, by a first one. Then a second one wanted to rape her, and she resisted. He killed her.130

Some cases of sexual violence against women originating from neighboring West African countries have taken place within the context of interethnic conflicts over land, particularly in the southwest. Indeed, southwestern Côte d’Ivoire remains beset by ethnic tensions and violence, characterized by armed gangs and militias attacking villages, destroying homes, schools, wells, and health centers, resulting in ongoing cycles of displacement.131 Killings, rapes, and a few massacres have continued up until the present, long past the end of active hostilities, and even within the Zone of Confidence.

Women Targeted because they were French or White

Foreign women of non-African descent were also singled out for politically motivated sexual violence. Severalwhite women, most likely French, were raped during the anti-French riots and attacks that rocked Abidjan from November 6 to 12, 2004. These attacks followed a military crisis between Ivorian and French troops; in early November 2004, Ivorian airplanes broke a ceasefire and bombarded a New Forces base at Bouaké, killing numerous civilians and nine French soldiers. The French immediately responded by destroying all Ivorian military aircraft, which then ignited anti-French riots, large-scale violence in Abidjan, and the evacuation of 8,000 foreigners (most of them French).

According to French military officials, several white women were raped; French General Henri Poncet, then commander of the Licorne operation (French peacekeeping forces in Côte d’Ivoire), said “I confirm that there were rapes…There were exactions, tragedies for a number of women. I will not comment any more, out of respect.”132 General Henri Bentégeat, chief of staff of the army who commanded all operational French forces at the time, did not hesitate to describe as “rapists” those responsible for pillaging French residences in Abidjan and attacking French citizens.133 Both Henri Aussavy, then spokesperson for Licorne, and Hervé Ladsous, then spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Paris confirmed that there were indeed rapes in November 2004.134 On November 12, 2004, the President of the Union of French Expatriates in Abidjan (l’Union des Français de l’étranger à Abidjan), Catherine Rechenmann, hinted that three European women who had been raped had returned to France.135 Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain concrete information on the number of overall rapes, or contact information for victims, even those few who had commenced a lawsuit in Paris.136

Women Targeted for their Affiliation to the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) Opposition Party

Even prior to the 2002 outbreak of hostilities, as early as 2000, women in Côte d’Ivoire were targeted by pro-government forces for their affiliation—either actual or perceived—with the RDR opposition political party. In many cases these acts terrorized entire families and neighborhoods, perhaps in an effort to weaken their support for the opposition party. Some women were raped and gang raped because of the political activities of a husband, father, brother, or other relative, even if they had never engaged in any form of political activism themselves.

A previous wave of politically motivated sexual abuses against women affiliated with the opposition took place in 2000, two years before the outbreak of active fighting. During the violence which accompanied the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections, police, gendarmes, soldiers, and other pro-government forces committed many rapes and acts of sexual torture perpetrated against real or perceived RDR supporters.137 The perpetrators most frequently committed sexual crimes in centers of detention where both male and female detainees were subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation while in the custody of the gendarmes and police, or by supporters of the FPI in the presence of security forces. Men’s genitals were beaten, tortured, and/or burned, and male detainees were ordered to get an erection in order to rape women detainees. Women were stripped naked, beaten, threatened with sexual assault, raped, gang raped, penetrated with objects, beaten in the genital area, or sexually humiliated. Rapes took place on the grounds of a technical institute in Cocody, the National Police Academy, and the Youpougon Gendarme Camp.138 Other abuses were meted out by supporters of the FPI in the presence of security forces.

In spite of international outrage about the 2000 sexual abuse, these and other atrocities against RDR members and their families continued, reemerging in 2002 with the outbreak of war, and continuing throughout the conflict. From 2002, women associated with the RDR were sexually abused by pro-government forces, at times against a backdrop of intimidation of RDR members in general. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry,139 which was mandated to investigate human rights abuses in Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2004, produced a hard hitting report that was suppressed at the United Nations and has not been published. In a leaked version of this report, the Commission of Inquiry described a number of political assassinations of RDR leaders. A leading human rights group, the Ivorian Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme) documented approximately 300 assassinations of RDR activists in the period following the rebellion alone.140 Interviews with victims, witnesses, and RDR leaders suggest that these attacks were sometimes accompanied by sexual assaults against RDR supporters and their female family members.

Human Rights Watch received numerous reports and documented seven cases from 2002-2006 in which victims of sexual abuse appeared to have been targeted on account of their or a family member’s affiliation with the RDR party.

A woman whose family was active in the RDR described how Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian gendarmes gang raped her in front of her husband and then killed him, after accusing him of being a “traitor.” The attacked occurred in late 2002 when pro-government forces took the city of Daloa back from the rebels. According to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, numerous RDR supporters were targeted at this time, during a massacre by pro-government forces in Daloa. The rape survivor told Human Rights Watch that she saw many bodies of other people killed and that she believed other women had been raped as she was, because of their affiliation to the RDR or their perceived support for the rebels.

I was in Daloa when the rebels came. We were RDR and we went out to applaud [the rebels when they took the city] because we thought they were fighting for us. Gbagbo’s people made a list141 of all the people who went out to greet the rebels, of all of us who’d clapped. Then later, Gbagbo sent the Liberian mercenaries [and other forces to take back Daloa]. They came to our house. They [the Liberians] were speaking English, mixed in with the gendarmes who were speaking French. They beat my husband. When I complained and screamed, then they beat me terribly and they raped me. In front of my husband. I don’t know how many raped me. I had a breakdown and couldn’t bear the pain. And afterwards I woke up and I saw that they killed my husband. His body was in front of me. They mostly killed men and raped the women. But if you were unlucky they would rape you and then kill you too.142

Human Rights Watch documented two cases in which women whose in-laws were leaders in the RDR in Abidjan appeared to have been targeted for sexual abuse. In both cases, one or more RDR supporters in their family were murdered. The first woman recounted to Human Rights Watch how she was illegally detained, jailed, and repeatedly gang raped in the beginning of the war by eight armed men in Abidjan whom she could not identify, and whom she believed were  punishing her because of her father-in-law’s political activism with the RDR: 

The father of my husband was a big planter and he was at the head of a group of RDR. One day in the war they went to attack him and kill him and he died. I was in the market. And they were looking for my husband to kill him too. They came looking for me in the market. They broke my store where I sell cloth and they killed people in front of the store. They caught me and put me in jail. I was in jail three days. I myself was raped. I was raped. It was very hard. They caught us, in this story of the politics, us seven women. If I talk about it, I feel it touching me and it hurts my heart. It is too much in my heart. They would pass on me one by one. By the hour, they could sleep with me three times in one hour’s time. They raped us. They went to put us in a place like a house far away in the bush…I saw some dead women. We found some corpses of women there, in the abandoned house. I’d never seen any bodies with my own eyes before.143

The second woman—whose father-in-law and two brothers-in-law were killed—was also detained in a similar clandestine, unofficial jail. She described how she was attacked, beaten, kidnapped, incarcerated, and gang raped for three days while her husband was wounded and her small children left to fend for themselves.

Several interviewees recounted how women were raped in RDR households and neighborhoods at the same time that men were taken to be killed. One woman who resided in an RDR stronghold in Abidjan described an attack on her house in late 2002, shortly after Bouaké was taken by rebels, during which pro-government forces in camouflage uniform detained and later “disappeared” her husband who was a politically active member of the RDR, raped several women, including one who was pregnant, and injured or killed a few neighbors:

My husband and I were in the RDR and did campaigns together…They came to our courtyard in Ndiama. When they came in they killed an old man and hurt a youngster and threw a grenade. Then they came into the women’s room to rape women. They took my husband because they said he is RDR…I cannot go back to Abidjan because of what I saw there. This happened after Bouaké was taken. The men who did this were in camouflage uniform with guns. They took everything. The women they raped, one was pregnant. The pregnant woman aborted right there. Yes, the girls were screaming. And when the men left and the pregnant woman aborted, she told us about the rapes. They beat the pregnant lady’s husband to death.144  

The sexual violence against relatives of higher ranking RDR members appeared designed to punish and terrorize entire families and communities, perhaps in an effort to weaken their support for the opposition party. Another survivor whose family was Muslim and some of whose relatives were of Malian origin described how her family was attacked by uniformed pro-government forces in Daloa in an effort to ascertain the whereabouts of their brother, an RDR activist. During the attack, her older sister was gang raped by seven “Loyalists” and she herself was threatened with rape, beaten with a gun, and had her arm broken.  

My big brother was in the RDR, a political member…They came looking for him. We [my sisters and I] said “He is out.” They said then “We will kill the three of you if you don’t call him and get him to come.” They found a notebook with the number of…my big brother and they called him. They said they would kill his three sisters if he didn’t come. He said “I am coming, just take some money, please don’t hurt them.” They said “We will rape all three.” They took me and hit me with a gun and broke my arm, they smacked my big sister in the face. They locked the two of us [younger girls] up. Then they took my beautiful tallest older sister and tied her up and raped her over and over. Then they found the two of us and they beat us again. After a second attack by pro-government forces, some time later we escaped and got into a bus and came to Mali. We heard afterwards that they burned everything and broke everything and stole all our things. So we are here in Mali with nothing. My life is miserable here. Every day I cry. I don’t know what to do. My big sister who was raped is married here now. My big sister is so sad and feels the pain forever. They were many of them raping her, seven Loyalists. When I see men now I feel scared and bad.145

Representatives from the RDR party, consular officials, and local and international NGOs told Human Rights Watch that they believed women and girls from groups perceived to support the rebels or political opposition were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence by security forces and their supporters during political crises. 146 Many of these attacks happened in and around the Abidjan neighborhoods of Sadiba, Adjamé, Abobo, Youpougon and Treichville, which have sizeable Dioula and Muslim populations and as such are rightly or wrongly perceived by most actors in the Ivorian conflict to be strongholds of the RDR party and sympathetic to the New Forces.

Women targeted by FESCI

Human Rights Watch documented several cases of sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by the militant pro-government student group Ivorian Students Federation (Fédération estudiantine et scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire, FESCI). FESCI became increasingly violent as the Ivorian crisis deepened in the late 1990s. It is fiercely loyal to the Gbagbo government. FESCI was once led by the leader of the Young Patriots, Charles Blé Goudé, (who is one of the three individuals in Côte d’Ivoire to have been sanctioned by the United Nations), and Guillaume Soro (head of the New Forces, and currently serving as Prime Minister). Diplomats, journalists, and human rights monitors told Human Rights Watch that in addition to sowing terror, FESCI has in effect become a ‘mafia’ that uses violence to control economic activity on the university campus, with absolute control over who receives campus accommodation and which merchants operate on campus, seemingly without any fear of being held accountable.147  

In previous reports, Human Rights Watch has documented how at the main university campus in Abidjan, FESCI engaged in frequent acts of harassment, intimidation, and violence against those student and other groups they believe support the opposition or New Forces.148 These tactics have driven the rival student association, the General Association of Students of Côte d’Ivoire (Association générale des élèves et étudiants de la Côte d’Ivoire, AGEE-CI), underground. AGEE-CI members told Human Rights Watch that although they regularly report incidents of harassment and abuse to the police, so far no one has been prosecuted or punished for these crimes. In a July 2005 interview, FESCI leader Serge Koffi Yao justified the attacks because “AGEE-CI is not a student organization and we cannot let them meet on campus. It is a rebel organization created in the rebel zone and seeking to spread its tentacles to the university.”149

Several local human rights organizations told Human Rights Watch that they feared following up on and making public reports of sexual violence and other attacks on campus perpetrated by FESCI because of safety concerns.150 While Human Rights Watch documented several cases of sexual abuse by members of FESCI, we believe the numbers and incidence of sexual abuse by them may be significantly underreported.

Human Rights Watch interviews indicate that members of FESCI, including at least one FESCI “general,” have been implicated in sexual violence. For example, in June 2005, an AGEE-CI student leader was brutally gang raped on the Cocody campus in Abidjan, explicitly because of her activism in the AGEE-CI.

I was kidnapped by the same members of this FESCI which had tortured Habib Dodo to death. After dragging me all over the campus, looking for a “general” who was supposed to tell them what to do, they finally went to the old campus. Shortly afterwards, they made me undergo an interrogation. Their questions were trying to make me confess AGEE-CI’s collaboration with the rebels, and to get information about the leaders. I tried to say I didn’t know anything…They told me I was screwed. They also gave me information on my home, my private life, to show me that they know a lot about my case and couldn’t escape them. When they spoke of my [family members]…I had chills…Then my interrogator asked them to “Be effective” as he locked me up with four of them, and told them to “Do a clean job…”They beat me up. They told me that they were trained to kill and that they’d kill me if I didn’t speak. They showed me bloodstains on the ground… and told me it was the blood of my comrades who’d been tortured there not long ago. Then…one of them insisted that they undress me forcibly and make me lay down, which was done. I understood right away that this was to accomplish an evil plan. One of them hit my head against a wall, the others were hitting me and fingering me. I screamed until my voice was hoarse but it was useless…My rapist took his place, squeezing my throat with his two hands. He was strangling me…He covered my face with a piece of coarse cloth and penetrated me. While he was raping me I tried to fight back and scream but the others were holding my feet…My rapist was hurting me. I was disgusted, suffering, and powerless…[After they let me go] they forbade me to return to the campus and told me my studies were finished…on pain of death.151

A leading local human rights organization documented the gang rape of another student active in the PDCI opposition party by two members of FESCI (one of whom she could identify) near her house in Abidjan shortly after she participated in an anti-government protest march on March 25, 2004. This student gave to the human rights NGO a written, detailed testimony, reviewed by Human Rights Watch. The NGO confirmed that there was no police or judicial follow-up for her case.152

Three women students alleged to Human Rights Watch that they are frequently victims of sexual harassment and intimidation by FESCI, and believed numerous other women experienced similar threats and abuse.153 This assertion was echoed by a leader of the opposition student union AGEE-CI.154 According to the three students individually interviewed by Human Rights Watch, and a group interview with seven women students, FESCI is also implicated in apolitical sexual exploitation and harassment of women students on campus. Students described a system of campus-wide domination by FESCI, where women students could be forced or pressured to have sexual intercourse with FESCI representatives. They explained that impunity for these attacks is fueled by FESCI’s control over the distribution of dorm rooms in university housing. Interviewees also described how the most beautiful women students are especially at risk: “if you are really pretty and they want you, you have a hard time refusing…they can make a lot of problems for you,” said one student who refused to give her name or age.155 A journalist from the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) cited a law student as stating, “As soon as a girl pleases them they send their guys to get her. If she refuses to submit to them she is expelled from the residence and prevented from going on campus to attend her classes.”156

When the group of women students was asked how they could contact the school administration for protection or how they could report such behavior for sanctions, the interviewees all laughed and one of them told Human Rights Watch, “You are dreaming! The university will do nothing.”157 Indeed, FESCI members are able to attack with impunity not only students, but faculty and top administrators as well. A teacher's face was disfigured in a FESCI attack, prompting his colleagues to halt work for two weeks.158 In February 2007, a newly appointed director of the University of Cocody designated by the Ministry of Higher Education was beaten by alleged FESCI members on the day that he was to take up his position, sustaining a head injury.

General Sexual Abuse Facilitated by Impunity and Conflict

The protracted nature of the Ivorian political-military crisis has appeared to increase girls’ and women’s vulnerability to various forms of sexual violence and exploitation including non-conflict-related rape, prostitution of children, sexual abuse by teachers, forced and early marriage, and domestic violence. Many women and girls described being driven to commercial sex work or locked into abusive relationships as a result of the increased poverty caused by the conflict.

Rates of rape where perpetrators are unknown and appear to be civilians or simply armed men without overt government or rebel affiliation are reportedly high. Many cases of sexual assault and exploitation appear to have been facilitated by the breakdown of the legal system, proliferation of arms, and general climate of impunity.

Displacement and poverty caused by the conflict have fueled a major increase in prostitution, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse of women and children in Côte d’Ivoire. The war is estimated to have displaced an estimated 1.7 million people within the country and additional hundreds of thousands abroad, often splitting up families, undermining the networks that traditionally protect them and leaving women or children to deal alone with responsibility for managing household finances and supporting children. Internally displaced persons appeared to be particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

With economic growth rates averaging around 7 percent for the first 20 years of independence, Côte d’Ivoire was the envy of countries throughout the developing world.159 However, its economy has been dramatically undermined by the war and other causes, leaving millions of Ivorians impoverished.160 As a result, many women and girls engaged in survival sex (sex for money, food, or services for their families or themselves). An adolescent who was 11 when the war started recounted how, after becoming separated from her family during the war, she became dependent on a man who eventually became her “husband.”

When the war came, I fled into the bush. I was 11 years old. I lost my family. And during the walk a young man helped me, he saved me because I didn’t know where to go. So since then till now I live with him as a husband. Life is hard.161

Representatives of national and international humanitarian organizations unanimously agreed that there is a dramatic rise in survival sex and sexual exploitation, which they believed to be a direct result of poverty and mass displacement.162 Several children’s rights organizations noted the increase in the number of children as young as eight involved in selling sex, with girls of 12 years and upwards identified as doing so regularly. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative underscored that IDPs were particularly vulnerable, even after their initial displacement.163

In exchange for sex, many women and girls receive very small amounts of money (1000 CFA,164 or US$2) or basic food items like a packet of biscuits, or a plate of food. Others are given clothing, cell phones, perfume or watches. An OCHA representative based in the western town of Man described how some women and girls sold their bodies for as little as one meal: “Women and teenagers will spend the night with a man for a plate of atchéké [a cassava-based staple].”165  A woman who was gang raped in 2002 by pro-government forces who also murdered her husband now engages in survival sex:

I fled to Mali. We hid to escape, in a big truck. I live alone in my room, with a Malian family, I pay when I can…I have to prostitute myself to eat. Many girls do this but they won’t tell you. I want to kill myself, I want to commit suicide.166

14 Report by a local organization, Côte d’Ivoire, 2004.

15 Human Rights Watch interview with leader of a local humanitarian organization who has been active in numerous local associations, Danané, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

16 Ibid.

17 Decree 2000-133 of February 23, 2000 relative to the organization of the Ministry of the Family, Women, and Children, which created a National Committee against Violence against Women and Children.

18 Human Rights Watch interviews with local women’s rights activists who attended presentations by the Ministry of the Family, Women, and Children and the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Security, and the Handicapped, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

19 Ibid.

20 The Marcoussis and Accra peace accords lessened armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, and men and women started to auto-demobilize soon after.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with the staff member of an international humanitarian organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

22 Ibid. The lowest rate is recorded in Blédi Deya with 28 percent of child mothers among the interviewed girls. Other rates include: Danané, 37 percent; Zeaglom, 53 percent; Bloléquin, 70 percent; and Toulepleu, 75 percent.

23 The brotherhood of Dozos has no equivalent in the Western world; it combines “hunter,” “healer,” and “magician” in a traditional brotherhood with a prestigious and widely feared position in society. Although the role of the Dozos faded during the construction of post-colonial states, they resurfaced across the sub region with the advent of brutal wars in the 1990s. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the kamajors—who are closely related to the Dozos—transformed into major fighting forces during those countries’ respective wars.

24 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alain Lobognon, National Secretary for Communication, April 10, 2007; Human Rights Watch interviews, former rebel spokesman, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006: During the Spring of 2003, MPCI leaders in Bouaké sent troops to expel or kill Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters in the west and their leaders Félix Doh and Sam Bockarie, ostensibly because the MPJ and MPIGO troops were responsible for such numerous violations that they had become a political liability. The MPCI mobilized troops from the north towards the west and the forces of Chérif Ousmane known as the “Leopards” (“Companie Guépard”) proceeded to attack combatants from the MPJ and MPIGO, expulsing and killing foreign fighters including MPJ leader Félix Doh. Guillaume Soro himself allegedly accompanied Ousmane to Danané, presented Ousmane to the population, and asked for the people’s support.

25 Human Rights Watch interview and email correspondence, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

26 Human Rights Watch interviews, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

28 Human Rights Watch interview, Nimba County, Liberia, October 2006.

29 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

30 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

31 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with midwives, Danané, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

32 Ibid.

33 Videotape interview [on file with Human Rights Watch], Liberia, October 2006.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Human Rights Watch interview, Liberia, October 2006.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, Liberia, October 2006.

39 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

40 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

41 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

42 Human Rights Watch interview, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

43 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, September 2006.

44 Ibid.

45 Human Rights Watch interview, Nimba County, Liberia, October 2006.

46 Human Rights Watch interview, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

47 Report by an international humanitarian organization, which wished to remain anonymous, based on a March-June 2006 study of community reinsertion of girls who were associated with different armed groups in Western Côte d’Ivoire, unpublished document [on file with Human Rights Watch], hereinafter “Reinsertion of Former Girl Soldiers,” 2006.

48 Ibid.

49 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of an international humanitarian organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

51 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

52 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

53 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

54 Human Rights Watch interviews with a staff member of a local humanitarian organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

55 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

56 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

57 Ibid.

58 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of an international humanitarian organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with former rebel spokesman, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

60 Human Rights Watch interviews with Ivorian refugee leaders, Liberia, October 2006.

61 Human Rights Watch interview with over a dozen staff members of an international humanitarian organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

62 Reports of additional killings of abducted women and girls by forces loyal to then-Liberian President Charles Taylor merit further investigation. These reports suggest that many abducted Ivorian and other women and girls may have been killed in the Liberian town of Ganta when Liberian government forces, allegedly acting on the orders of Liberian then-President Charles Taylor, murdered his former ally.

63 Human Rights Watch interview and email correspondence, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

64 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

65 Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, September 2006.

66 Human Rights Watch interview with former rebel spokesman, Monrovia, Liberia, October 2006.

67 Human Rights Watch interview, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

68 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of a local women’s organization, Danané, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

69 Human Rights Watch interviews with a staff member of a local organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

70 Human Rights Watch interviews with a staff member of a local organization, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

71 Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Djitro, staff member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire, September 29, 2006.

72 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

73 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

74 Human Rights Watch interview, Nimba County, Liberia, October 2006.

75 ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Report N° 6, May – June – July – August 2006, 2007. This report noted that the human rights situation is especially alarming in the Zone of Confidence where inter-communal, inter-ethnic violence “continues to plunge the population in rampant insecurity,” with criminals, armed men, militias called "Cocos taillés", Dozos, and other armed groups acting in total impunity. ONUCI reported assassinations, killings, extortion and theft, kidnappings, disappearances, and other physical abuse in the Zone of Confidence which continue to trigger forced displacement of populations. In the rebel areas, ONUCI found frequent summary executions and detention of suspected spies, and received reports of rapes.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with civil society representatives and humanitarian workers active in rebel-held Côte d’Ivoire, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

77 The United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d’Ivoire, ONUCI) replaced the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (Mission des Nations Unies en Côte d’Ivoire, or MINUCI) on 4 April 2004.

78 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alain Lobognon, New Forces National Secretary for Communication, April 10, 2007.

79 ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Report N° 6, May – June – July – August 2006, 2007, p. 21.

80 Human Rights Watch interviews with the leader of a local women’s organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

81 ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, January – February – March – April 2006, June 2006. pp. 31-36; ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, August – September – October – November – December 2005, February 2006, pp. 27-29; ONUCI, Human Rights Division, ONUCI Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire, May – June – July 2005, October 2006, pp.29-33.

82 Human Rights Watch, Trapped Between Two Wars, pp 24-25.

83 Ibid, p. 24.

84 Ethnicities considered to be loyal to the government or simply hostile to the New Forces could include Baoulé, Bété, Guéré, or Krou.

85 During the rebel takeover of northern and central Côte d’Ivoire during September and October, numerous atrocities were committed. The extent of human rights violations remains hard to quantify. Rebels allegedly arrested and killed scores if not hundreds of people affiliated with police and government. Pro-government forces then briefly retook the city of Bouaké and the region around it, summarily executing a number of alleged rebel supporters, burning and exposing their bodies in the streets. A few days later, on October 8, 2002, when rebels definitively retook Bouaké, they committed similar retaliatory executions, targeting both armed pro-government forces and civilians who had demonstrated support for the government. These atrocities triggered massive population displacement. At least 200,000 people are estimated to have fled Bouaké alone, many from the Baoulé or other southern ethnic groups, who fled partly out of fear that the rebels, largely from the Sénoufou or other northern ethnic groups, would carry out abuses against them. See Human Rights Watch, Trapped Between Two Wars.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with leader of a local humanitarian organization, Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

87 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with midwives and social workers who had been based in Yamoussoukro, September 2006-March 2007.

88 Amnesty International, Côte d’Ivoire – Targeting women: the forgotten victims of the conflict, AI Index: AFR 31/001/2007, 15 March 2007, available at

89 Ibid.

90 Ibid, p. 10.

91 Ibid.

92 Ibid.

93 One particularly egregious crime attributed to Commander Fofié was a well documented massacre in June 2004 of over one hundred (100) people, mostly dissident rebel fighters, some 60 of whom were found to have died from suffocation after being held in sealed goods containers for several days without food or water. Report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire, unpublished document [on file with Human Rights Watch], p. 38.

94 “Côte d’Ivoire: Profiles of Three Ivorians Facing UN Sanctions,” IRIN, February 8, 2006, available at

95 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a staff member of an international humanitarian organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, January 16, 2007.

96 The hardest hit areas of western and southern Côte d’Ivoire appear to have been the administrative regions of 18 Montagnes, Moyen-Cavally, Bas-Sassandra, and Haut-Sassandra, and the towns of Duékoué, Guiglo, Blolequin, Toulepleu, Tai, Tabou, Vavoua, and Daloa.

97 Human Rights Watch, Trapped Between Two Wars, p. 7-8. Human Rights Watch and others have documented a number of these crimes including the killing of more than 60 civilians by Liberian mercenaries and government troops in Bangolo in early March 2003, the killing of over 50 in Daloa in October 2002, and the killing of some 100 civilians in Monoko Zohi in November 2002.

98Human Rights Watch, Côte d’Ivoire: The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse, December 2005,ôte1205/index.htm.

99 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 Human Rights Watch has already documented the proliferation of pro-government militia groups and their increased role and power in earlier work. See Human Rights Watch, “Côte d’Ivoire – Militias Commit Abuses with Impunity,” November 27, 2003, available online at

102 Human Rights Watch, The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse.

103 The name “Lima” may be derived from the fact that Lima is the radio alphabet code for the letter “L,” used to designate Liberians.

104 A mixture of rebel forces captured Man on November 28, 2002. The government counter-attacked and succeeded in recapturing Man on November 30, 2002. The loyalist forces then held Man for at least two weeks, until the town was re-taken by the rebels on December 19, 2002.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with a president of a women’s association, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

106 Human Rights Watch interviews with health and humanitarian workers, Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

107 Human Rights Watch interview, Nimba County, Liberia, October 2006.

108 Human Rights Watch, “‘Because They Have Guns…I’m Left with Nothing’: The Price of Continuing Impunity in Côte d’Ivoire, footnote 13.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with a random sampling of 14 Burkinabé women who had fled Côte d’Ivoire at various points during the war and crisis, Burkina Faso, October 2006.

110 Joshua A. Strozeski, The Role of Land Ownership in Localized Conflicts Between Bété and Burkinabé Households in the Central Western Forest Regions of Côte d’Ivoire (Washington, DC: Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Howard University Department of African Studies), unpublished document [on file with Human Rights Watch], May 2006, p. 142. (in Gboghue, Yokorea, Gripazo, Niapoyo/Koneadougou, Sorohio, and Valua).

111 Human Rights Watch interview, Burkina Faso, October 2006.

112 Human Rights Watch interview with Koné Nabalassé, Korhogo Police Prefect (Préfet de police), Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, October 2006.

113 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

114 Human Rights Watch interview with multiple leaders in the RDR party, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

116 Human Rights Watch, Government Abuses in Response to Army Revolt, vol 14, no.9(A), November 2002, footnote 20: “Information provided by humanitarian agencies in Abidjan.”

117 Human Rights Watch, Government Abuses in Response to Army Revolt; “Des centaines de soldats ont investi hier des bidonvilles,” le Jour, December 12, 2002, p. 2; Human Rights Watch, Trapped Between Two Wars, pp. 9-10.

118 Report by an anonymous NGO, unpublished document [on file with Human Rights Watch], hereinafter Sexual violence in 18 Montagnes.

119 Human Rights Watch interview with staff members of an international humanitarian organization, Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire, September 29, 2006.

120 Ibid.

121 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness, Nimba County, Liberia, October 2006.

122 Human Rights Watch interview with the president of a local organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

123 Human Rights Watch interview with staff members of an international humanitarian organization, Abidjan and Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

124 Unpublished affidavit by victim for local human rights organization [on file with Human Rights Watch], Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 2005.

125 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

126 Human Rights Watch interviews with consular sources, representatives of a local human rights group involved, and the witness’ testimony, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006. The consular officials told Human Rights Watch that the policeman involved in this attack was a notorious recidivist who had been implicated in numerous rapes whilst on duty.

127 Human Rights Watch in-person and telephone interviews with the president of a local human rights organization, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

128 Human Rights Watch interviews with a consular official, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

129 Human Rights Watch interview with four women leaders of a women’s organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

130 Human Rights Watch interview with a witness, Burkina Faso, October 2006.

131 Strozeski, Land Ownership, pp. 142.

132 Meera Selva, “Rioters Rape Europeans As They Flee From Ivory Coast,” Independent (UK), November 13, 2004; Marie-Amélie Lombard-Latune and Christophe Cornevin, “Des plaintes pour viol déposées en justice,” Le Figaro, November 13, 2004.

133 “Interview with General Henri Bentégeat,” Europe-1, November 12, 2004.

134 Selva, “Rioters Rape Europeans As They Flee from Ivory Coast” and Lombard, “Des plaints pour viol deposes en justice.”

135 France-Inter news [Radio], November 12, 2004.

136 Two hundred and thirty-seven complaints were registered at the French tribunal of Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis, near the airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle) on February 1 2005, three of which were for rape and one for attempted rape. The cases have been processed and were ongoing at the time of writing.

137 Human Rights Watch, The New Racism.

138 Ibid.

139 Report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire, p. 52.

140Ibid, pp. 36-37.

141 For a discussion of lists, seeHuman Rights Watch, Trapped Between Two Wars: “Some of the targeting of political opposition and suspected rebel sympathizers was done with premeditation and planning. Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch of the existence of lists of names that circulated among units of the government armed forces in Daloa, Guiglo, Vavoua, and other locations. In several cases, witnesses escaped after being warned of the existence of the lists by friendly government contacts. In most cases these lists appear to have been created with assistance from local villagers and townspeople sympathetic to the government. In some cases however, the names on the lists may have originated in Abidjan.”

142 Human Rights Watch interview, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

143 Videotape interview shot in Mali [on file with Human Rights Watch], October 2006.

144 Human Rights Watch interview with witness, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

145 Human Rights Watch interview with witness, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.

146 Human Rights Watch interview with consular officials, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

147 Human Rights Watch, Because They Have Guns, Footnote 41: Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, journalists, and human rights monitors, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

148 Human Rights Watch, The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse and Human Rights Watch, Because They Have the Guns.

149 “Côte d’Ivoire: University Campus Polarized by Political Violence,” IRIN, July 29, 2005.

150 Human Rights Watch interview with Ivorian human rights organizations, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

151 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

152 Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of a local human rights organization, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

153 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

154 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a leader of the opposition student union AGEE-CI, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

155 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

156 “Côte d’Ivoire: Violence in University campus,” IRIN, February 23, 2007.

157 Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

158 “Côte d’Ivoire: Violence in University campus,” IRIN, February 23, 2007.

159 Jean-Claude Berthelemy and Francois Bourguignon, Growth and Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, (Washington DC: The World Bank Press, 1996).

160 Other causes include the declining cocoa prices on the world market, corruption (Hofnung, “Dix clés,” p. 9.), and the most rapid deforestation taking place in any country in the world since the mid-1950s (M. P. E. Parren and N. R. de Graaf, The Quest for Natural Forest Management in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, (Wageningen: Wageningen Agricultural University Press, 1995), p. 29. “The average annual deforestation rate, as a percent of the remaining forest, rose from 2.4 percent in 1956 – 65 to 7.3 percent in 1981 – 85, over ten times the pan-tropical average of 0.6 percent.”)

161 Human Rights Watch interviews with a minor victim of sexual exploitation, Côte d’Ivoire, September 2006.

162 Nearly all of the dozens of national and international NGO representatives who were asked about prostitution and sexual exploitation independently told Human Rights Watch that they believe both increased dramatically in 2002 with the beginning of the conflict, as a direct result of poverty and mass displacement.

163 Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Djitro, a staff member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire, September 29, 2006.

164 The CFA franc (in French: “franc CFA,” pronounced "céfa", or more colloquially known just as “franc”) is a currency used in 12 formerly French-ruled African countries, as well as in Guinea-Bissau (a former Portuguese colony) and in Equatorial Guinea (a former Spanish colony).

165 Human Rights Watch interview with Boni M’Paka, a staff member of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Man, Côte d’Ivoire, September 24, 2006.

166 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bamako, Mali, October 2006.