Background Briefing

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During the internal conflict from September 2002 through January 2003, and during the political impasse that has followed, Ivorian state security forces and other pro-government forces, including  government-recruited Liberian mercenaries, frequently and sometimes systematically executed, detained, and attacked those perceived to be supporters of the rebel forces based on ethnic, national, religious and political affiliation. Militia groups, tolerated if not encouraged by state security forces, have engaged in widespread targeting of the immigrant community, particularly village-based Burkinabé agricultural workers in the west.

Violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by  state security forces and their associated militias include summary executions, political assassinations, torture, rape and other sexual violence, violations of medical neutrality, the wanton destruction of civilian property, physical attacks and a crackdown on the press, and the use of child soldiers.4   

Since 2000, the government has increasingly relied on pro-government militias for both law enforcement and, since 2002, to combat the rebellion. During the conflict in 2002-2003, the Ivorian government's policy of encouraging civilians to form self-defense committees and participate in security tasks such as manning checkpoints, and their failure to hold them accountable for abuses, has contributed to the growth and impunity of these groups in Abidjan and the rural areas. Drawn mainly from youth supporters of the FPI, these groups are a lightly-veiled mechanism to intimidate and abuse members of the political opposition and those, who by virtue of their religion, ethnicity and/or nationality, were thought to oppose the government (most notably Muslims, northerners, and West African immigrants mostly from Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Guinea).

Since 2002, thousands of militant youth, the majority from Gbagbo’s Bete ethnic group have enlisted into the state security forces, including the gendarmerie, police, and military. Some of the more militant members of these institutions simply refuse to obey orders from their superiors. This leads to a rather confusing picture with respect to the security forces responsible for recent abuses, especially given that perpetrators sometimes don’t wear identifying insignia. Their numbers, estimated to be in the tens of thousands, could easily exceed the numbers of the national army or combatants from the Forces Nouvelles.5

Several notable atrocities allegedly committed by Ivorian security forces and other pro-government forces, are as follows:

  • In an October 2002 police operation in Daloa, over fifty northern and immigrant civilians were executed, allegedly by the Anti-Riot Squad (Brigade Anti-Emeute, BAE.)
  • In an attack by government forces on Monoko Zohi in November 2002, at least one hundred civilians, mainly West African immigrants, were killed and buried in mass graves.
  • During the government occupation of Man in December 2002, dozens of opposition and suspected rebel supporters were executed in reprisal killings.
  • In 2002-3, government security forces carried out both indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians, killing at least fifty civilians in the west through their use of helicopter gunships.
  • Liberians from the Ivorian refugee camps and from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel faction participated in dozens of killings, rapes, and other acts of violence against civilians in and around Toulepleu, Bangolo and Blolékin. At least sixty civilians were killed in the worst single incident documented in Bangolo in March 2003.
  • Between March 24-26, 2004, at least 105 civilians were killed, 290 were wounded, and some 20 individuals “disappeared” after being taken into custody by the security forces (military, gendarmes, and police), pro-government militias, and FPI party militants around the time of an anti-government demonstration planned by opposition groups.

[4] See, Human Rights Watch Report, “Trapped Between Two Wars: Violence Against Civilians in Western Côte d'Ivoire,” August 2003.

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with French military source, New York, July 19, 2004.

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