Background Briefing

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

Human Rights Violations by the New Forces: 2005 Trends

New Forces rebels regularly arbitrarily detain and sometimes execute persons suspected of working as government infiltrators. They also exploit their power and systematically extort and rob civilians at military checkpoints and in the towns and villages under their control. The New Forces have not established functioning and effective governance institutions within the territory under their control; the peace agreements do not require them to do so. In practice, the rebels appear to exert authority through the use or threat of force, a situation which contributes to insecurity and serious human rights abuses against civilians.  Moreover, the apparent fragmentation of authority within the New Forces exacerbates the sense of insecurity and impunity in the north.

The New Forces have divided the territory they control into ten zones, each of which is controlled by a Zone Commander. Several sources told Human Rights Watch that the Zone Commanders appear to have become the “absolute rulers” of their territory, and do not always follow the orders of their superiors.67 Rebel units appear to act with little fear of being disciplined for abuses committed against civilians. At some rebel checkpoints, Human Rights Watch researchers in addition to Ivorian civilians were aggressively asked for money.  Soldiers at the checkpoints justified their acts by saying that their commanders were not paying them. 

Patterns of Abuses during 2005 by the New Forces

Reports of Arbitrary Detention

During 2005 the New Forces rebels frequently arbitrarily detained persons.68  As one local human rights monitor noted, “In the north there is no judiciary, no justice or no real governance. Instead there is a lot of ‘private justice’ imposed by the men with arms.”69 Usually detentions appear to be related to political circumstances, such as an internal power struggle between rebel leaders Guillame Soro and Ibrahim Coulibaly, which in 2004 led to the deaths of more than 100 rebels and civilians. In 2005 there were numerous arrests of alleged government supporters following the pro-government militia attack on the rebel-held town of Logoualé in February.70 However, according to villagers, victims, human rights monitors, and aid workers in rebel-held Man and Bouaké, detentions are frequently arbitrary and appear to be used primarily as a method to extort money from civilians.71 An aid worker with an international organization explained:

The rebels arrest people for all kind of things: not paying at checkpoints, because you have something they want, political reasons, robbery… or just because someone accuses someone of whatever. Justice is like a menu, you pay to get freed. It is completely arbitrary. It is complex, because personal or family relations affect the amounts you have to pay, the length of your stay in the detention center and the way this pseudo-justice is administered.72

The U.N. human rights monitor in Bouaké told Human Rights Watch that once individuals are detained, they are then transferred to various types of detention facilities, including rebel military camps and civilian prisons run by Ivorian police.  These police have, since the country’s de facto partition, operated without control or pay from any Ivorian police central authority. They are in effect policing on their own with few economic means, in coordination with the rebel authorities, administering arbitrary justice in place of the state’s justice system.73

Extortion and Robbery of Civilians

Like the extortion in the government-controlled south, the extortion and robbery of civilians at checkpoints and in villages in the north is widespread and appears to be sanctioned by the command structure, which does nothing to stop it.74

Rebel commanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch maintain that the checkpoints are to provide security and stop government incursions. However, numerous aid workers, local businessmen, and ordinary civilians described how rebels regularly intimidate and harass travelers into giving them money.  They described how groups of rebels—sometimes up to thirty or forty per checkpoint—frighten and intimidate people into paying bribes, and how U.N. personnel appear to be the only ones not subject to this form of abuse.75 Human Rights Watch researchers witnessed several rebels, who were obviously intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, extorting money from people at checkpoints. At one checkpoint near Bouaké, an inebriated unarmed rebel threatened the researchers if they did not pay 1,000 CFAs (about U.S.$2), saying: “You have to pay. I don’t care about my bosses. I am the only boss here.”

Petty traders and market sellers appear to be particularly vulnerable to extortion. Several women in a rebel-held village near Man told Human Rights Watch that rebels routinely extorted money as the women enter and leave the market.76  As explained by one woman, “When I go to the market to sell palm oil, the rebels force me to pay 100 CFAs. When I leave, since they know I have sold my oil, I also pay 100 CFAs. If I don’t pay the money they take my oil and then I have to pay 500 CFAs to get it back. This has been going on since the rebellion began. Each time I go to the market it is the same.”77

New Forces rebels also engage in the widespread theft of crops, livestock, and other property from villages under their control, sometimes robbing the same villages repeatedly.78 One seventy-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that armed New Forces rebels wearing uniforms regularly come to his village to steal money, cigarettes, soap, and machetes from the shops; according to this man, groups of rebels have during 2005 raided his village on five different occasions. He said they usually came at night and often beat people during the raids.79 Several residents of a village near Bouaké told Human Rights Watch how, throughout 2005, groups of armed rebels from a nearby military training camp raided and stole crops, livestock, and other food items from their fields. As one villager explained:

When the crisis started, the rebels took our animals and crops but now it is better though we are very afraid. They still come and they take and harvest directly from the farmer’s field because they are not paid or fed…Two weeks ago they came and killed a goat and a sheep, and took them away. They have heavy weapons that make kra-kra [automatic weapons].

In addition, villagers said that on four separate occasions in September 2005, armed rebels came to the village and forcefully took chickens and sheep.80

At another village north of Bouaké, a woman told Human Rights Watch that armed rebels regularly steal yams and cassava from the chief’s fields nearby.81 Two boys who live in the village told Human Rights Watch that rebels wearing uniforms and carrying AK-47s regularly come from a nearby military camp to steal sheep and other food items.82 According to one of the boys, aged fourteen, “They come once a week, more or less…They also go to our fields and harvest directly. They take chickens and animals. If you are in the field, they ask you to harvest for them.”83 The other boy, aged sixteen, told the following to Human Rights Watch:

They come and steal our animals. They come in small groups of two and three. They do not let us talk. They catch the sheep. Rebels come when the people are working on the fields, usually at 2:00 p.m. We are afraid. They are violent. They are crazy. They look like they have smoked drugs. Their eyes are red…They also steal the yams directly from the field. We do not report. We do not go to the police. We are afraid.84

Reports of Summary Executions 

According to Ivorian human rights groups and the UNOCI Human Rights Division, in 2005 New Forces rebels committed numerous summary executions, primarily of individuals accused by the rebels of working with pro-government forces. In addition, these sources reported that several individuals have been “disappeared” and are presumed to have been executed. Cases documented included the “disappearance” or execution of several individuals believed to be pro-government infiltrators in the Man and Danané areas following the February 2005 attack on Logoualé. However, the sources noted that the number of executions has decreased since 2005 because of the resolution of the power struggle between New Forces leader Guillaume Soro and Ibrahim Coulibaly (as mentioned above).85

[67] See also International Crisis Group, “Côte d’Ivoire: Les demi-mesures ne suffiront pas,” October 12, 2005, p. 15.

[68] Human Rights Watch interviews with aid workers and monitors, Man, Bouaké, and Abidjan, September-October 2005. See also ONUCI Human Rights Division, “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Côte d’Ivoire: May, June, and July 2005,” October 2005.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with a human rights activist, Abidjan, September 26, 2005.

[70] Human Rights Watch interviews with human rights monitors and journalists in Bouaké and Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. and local human rights monitors and aid workers, Abidjan, Man, and Bouaké, September-October 2005.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian organization, Abidjan, September 29, 2005.  

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Mermet, UNOCI Human Rights monitor, Bouaké, October 7, 2005.

[74] Human Rights Watch interviews with victims and local and international aid and human rights workers, Man, Bouaké, and Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[75] Human Rights Watch interviews, northern Côte d’Ivoire, October 2005.

[76] Human Rights Watch interviews, villages close to Man, October 6, 2005.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Mermet, U.N. human rights monitor, Bouaké, October 7, 2005, and Human Rights Watch interviews with residents in villages near Man and Bouaké, September-October 2005.

[79] Human Rights Watch interviews, villages close to Man, October 6, 2005.

[80] Human Rights Watch interviews, villages close to Bouaké, October 8, 2005.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. and local human rights monitors, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>December 2005