Background Briefing

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Scenarios of Renewed Violence and its Impact on Civilians

The failure of the parties to resolve the contentious and complicated issues underlying the armed conflict increases the likelihood of future violence. Such violence could take many forms, including a resumption of active hostilities between the government and New Forces, a military coup, or localized clashes between militias and opposition parties in Abidjan or between rival ethnic groups in the restive cocoa and coffee-producing areas of the west. Of particular concern is the prospect of localized clashes around Abidjan or in the west that spiral out of control.129 Exacerbated by the widespread availability of small weapons in the country, each scenario brings with it risks to the general population.  

Military Coup

Diplomats and military analysts told Human Rights Watch that the army is extremely fractured and that a risk of a military coup d’état exists.130  One of the causes of the army’s division is that since 2002 President Gbagbo has systematically been recruiting soldiers and promoting officers he considers loyal to him—primarily drawn from the Bété, Attie, Abey, and Dida ethnic groups—while marginalizing others.131 This strategy has created serious internal divisions within and fractured the army, as senior officers are increasingly frustrated at the promotion of lower ranking officers or indeed new recruits who are less qualified. 132

One notable example of the army’s division was the August 2005 statement of Mathias Doué, whom President Gbagbo had replaced as army chief of staff the previous November with Gen. Phillippe Mangou (military sources in Abidjan said that Gbagbo promoted Mangou as a show of support because he organized the attack on the rebel-held north in November 2004).133 On August 20, 2005, Doué publicly called for the departure of President Gbagbo, and threatened to resort to “all necessary means” if the international community failed to ensure his departure. 134

Doué is not the only senior officer to have publicly expressed his dissatisfaction. In June 2005 Col. Jules Yao Yao, the former Army spokesman, was dismissed, and a few days later arrested, interrogated, and tortured along with Col.-Maj. Désiré Bakassa Traoré, the commander of the National Office for Civil Protection, and retired Gen. Laurent M’Bahia. 135 General Traoré died from injuries sustained under torture on July 3, 2005.136 Colonel Yao Yao went into hiding after he was freed, and has openly challenged Gbagbo’s presidency, for example when he and Doué recently threatened to return to “assume their responsibilities.”137

Several diplomatic and military sources told Human Rights Watch that President Gbagbo is deeply concerned about the state of the army and the risk of a coup d’état.138  Military analysts and diplomats based in Abidjan told Human Rights Watch that since shortly after Doué’s August 2005 statement, those soldiers and officers not belonging to “loyalist” ethnic groups are required to turn in their weapons when they leave the barracks at night. 139 In 2005 there have also been several disappearances and detentions of officers suspected of disloyalty, such as the popular Sergeant Abou Negue, a close associate of General Doué’s, who “disappeared” in September 2005 and has not been heard from since entering army national headquarters reportedly for a meeting with General Mangou.140   

Resumption of Armed Conflict

The likelihood of a resumption of armed conflict between the government and New Forces is considered by military analysts to be low because neither side is believed to have heavy weaponry sufficient to mobilize across the U.N.-controlled Zone of Confidence.141 Several diplomats and military sources based in Abidjan told Human Rights Watch that the arms embargo has been effective in curtailing the flow of heavy weapons to Côte d’Ivoire.142 These sources explained that while small arms are readily available, a military victory for either side is unlikely without larger weapons as well as air power, such as attack helicopters. However, Liberian former combatants and aid agencies interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Liberia in October 2005 said both the Ivorian militias and rebels have since at least August 2005 stepped up the cross-border recruitment of Liberians in anticipation, they said, of renewed fighting in Côte d’Ivoire.143


Localized Clashes in Abidjan

According to diplomats, military sources, and journalists, one of the most likely scenarios of renewed violence in Côte d’Ivoire is localized clashes in and around Abidjan.144 If the opposition launches street protests—with or without violence—there are concerns that the government would respond with excessive force, as it did in March 2004 when government security forces violently repressed an opposition demonstration.145

Communal Conflict in the West

In addition to violence in Abidjan, there is also a high risk of violent clashes between indigenous groups and immigrant farm workers in the cocoa and coffee producing areas of the west. Since even before the rebellion, this region has been the site of conflict between indigenous tribes, such as the Guéré and Wê, and immigrant farm workers from the north, such as the Dioulas, or from other West African countries, primarily Burkinabes. During 2005 there were several spasms of communal violence which resulted in at least seventy dead, the displacement of tens of thousands, and considerable destruction of property.


Tensions over the valuable agricultural land in the west have existed for decades, and although the violence manifests itself as ethnic conflict, its causes are multifaceted and involve a complex interplay of economic factors, disputes over land rights, the existence of armed militias, and the kind of political manipulation of ethnicity that is seen in the FPI’s adoption of an anti-foreigner rhetoric. The government strategy—together with the proliferation and recruitment of armed militias in the west since the rebellion—has fanned the flames of ethnic rivalry and spawned a series of attacks and counterattacks between indigenous and immigrant groups.146 Meanwhile, the resolution of disputes over rural land tenure is one of the principle demands of the New Forces rebels.

Widespread Availability of Weapons

In the event of renewed violence, the risk to civilians is exacerbated by the continued widespread availability of small weapons. Weapons are available because none of the government or rebel forces have been disarmed, and the arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council in November 2004 has apparently not prevented the flow of small weapons into Côte d’Ivoire.147 

According to the head of UNOCI’s disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) division, Jean Luc Stalon, the U.N.-backed disarmament process will include about 50,000 combatants, including members of the New Forces, recent recruits to the government’s security forces, and armed militias in the west.However, because the disarmament process remains a “hostage of the political crisis,” thus far no meaningful progress has been made in disarming the various armed groups in the country.148

In addition, Western diplomats and military sources contend that although the arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council in November 2004 has reduced the transfer of heavy weapons, small weapons—such as AK-47s and pistols—are easily purchased.149 The arms embargo is difficult to enforce because of porous borders and, according to Western diplomats, U.N. sources, and military analysts, limited United Nations staff resources.150 This issue was one of several identified by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a June 2005 report to the Security Council. In the report he said that UNOCI’s ability to enforce the arms embargo “is limited by a lack of dedicated expertise and resources, insufficient intelligence, and the continued failure of FANCI [the Armed Forces of Cote d’ Ivoire] and the New Forces to provide UNOCI with a comprehensive list of their armaments.”151

Concerns about Inadequate Civilian Protection

In the event of an eruption of violence, the potential for human rights abuses against civilians remains high because of the limited ability of 6,000 U.N. troops and 4,000 French troops to provide robust protection to civilians in imminent danger of attack. As stipulated in U.N. Security Council resolution 1609, the U.N. peacekeepers are mandated to “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” within their areas of deployment.152

On June 24, 2005, the Security Council authorized an 850-person increase in UNOCI’s military personnel.153  However, diplomats and military analysts interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not believe that the increase was sufficient to enable UNOCI to offer civilians robust protection, especially if violence erupted in more than one location.154

In September 2005, in his most recent report to the Security Council concerning Côte D’Ivoire, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed to the limited capacity of UNOCI to intervene to protect civilians. According to the report, the ability of UNOCI to maintain security “has been severely hampered by a dramatic increase in instances of deliberate obstruction of Mission movement and operations in various parts of the country.”155 One example occurred on July 24, 2005, when members of the Young Patriots and state security forces denied UNOCI troops access to Agboville, north of Abidjan. The troops were attempting to investigate attacks on two police stations in Anyama and Agboville.156

[129] Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, military analysts, journalists, UNOCI staff, and NGO staff, Abidjan, Guiglo, and Bouaké, September-October 2005.

[130] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[131] Human Rights Watch interviews with military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005. In 2002 alone Gbagbo recruited 3,500 new recruits into the army, mainly drawn from pro-government student and youth groups.

[132] Human Rights Watch interviews with military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[133] Human Rights Watch interviews with military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[134] For the full statement, see International Crisis Group, “Half Measures Will Not Suffice,” Africa Briefing No. 33, October 12, 2005, p. 12.

[135] Western diplomats told Human Rights Watch that the arrests occurred after they attended a farewell dinner for the exiting commander of the French forces at the French Ambassador’s residence. Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, October 13, 2005.

[136] Christophe Boisbouvier, “Gbagbo et l’armee: Qui menace qui?,” Jeune Afrique L’Intelligent, August 14-27, 2005, p. 26-32.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomatic and military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[139] Human Rights Watch interviews with military analysts and diplomats, Abidjan, October 2005.

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with a military analyst, and journalist, Abidjan, September 28, 2005.

[141] Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, military analysts, and journalists, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[142] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[143] Human Rights Watch interviews, Liberia, October 10-14, 2005.

[144] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[145] See Human Rights Watch, “Côte d’Ivoire: Human Rights Violations in Abidjan during an Opposition Demonstration, March 2004” and Human Rights Watch, “The New Racism: The Political Manipulation of Ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire,” Vol. 13, No. 6(A), August 2001.

[146] For a discussion of the roots of the conflict in the west see International Crisis Group, “Côte d’Ivoire: No Peace In Sight,” Africa Report, No. 82, July 12, 2004, p. 14-18.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with military analysts and diplomats, Abidjan, October 2005.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Luc Stalon, head of UNOCI DDR Division, Abidjan, October 14, 2005.

[149] Human Rights Watch interviews with Western diplomatic and military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[150] Ibid.

[151] “Fifth Progress Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire,” June 17, 2005, S/2005/398, p. 8.

[152] U.N. Security Council Resolution 1609, June 24, 2005. S/RES/1609 (2005).

[153] Ibid.

[154] Human Rights Watch interviews with Western diplomats and military sources, Abidjan, September-October 2005.

[155] “Sixth Progress Report of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire,” September 26, 2005, S/2005/604, p. 5.

[156] Ibid., p. 6.

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