(Dakar, January 19, 2006)—The Ivorian government must take concrete steps to stop recent attacks on United Nations peacekeepers by pro-government militias, Human Rights Watch said today. Warning of disastrous human rights consequences for ordinary Ivorians if events spiral out of control, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council to increase the number of peacekeepers on the ground.
"The violence in Côte d'Ivoire this week highlights why the Security Council must boost the U.N. peacekeeping force and activate travel and economic sanctions on human rights abusers authorized under relevant Security Council Resolutions," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "U.N. peacekeepers must act proactively to protect civilians and return as soon as possible to the affected areas so that vulnerable populations are protected."
The attacks against the peacekeepers (les casques bleus) began after a group of mediators charged with oversight of the peace process concluded that the mandate of the National Assembly had not been extended beyond its December 16, 2005 expiration date. The protesters accused international mediators and the U.N. of overstepping their authority and trying to interfere in state sovereignty. President Laurent Gbagbo's party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), held a substantial number of seats in the National Assembly.
Over the next few days, thousands of President Gbagbo's supporters, including pro-government militias, took to the streets in protest, burning tires, blocking main roads in Abidjan, and attacking U.N. vehicles and buildings in four cities. On Tuesday protesters in San Pedro hurled firebombs into an office of the U.N. civilian police. On Wednesday the protesters overran regional U.N. headquarters in Daloa and Guiglo and besieged the U.N.’s principal headquarters in Abidjan. At least three protesters were killed in an exchange of gunfire as protesters tried to overrun the U.N. base in Guiglo. In Daloa protesters also ransacked the homes of U.N. staff members.
A U.N. force of over 6,000 peacekeeping troops as well as a contingent of 4,000 more heavily armed French troops patrols a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and government-controlled south of the country. In a U.N. report in January 2006, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the U.N. force is thinly stretched and insufficient to ensure peacekeeping, particularly in light of the possibility that another major violent crisis might occur, and asked for 3,400 additional troops.
“It is imperative that the Ivorian government take urgent and concrete steps to stop the attacks,” said Takirambudde.