V. THE OCTOBER PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
After RDR leader Alassane Ouattara and several other candidates were excluded from running in the October 22, 2000, presidential elections, only two serious contenders-the incumbent president, General Robert Guei, and FPI candidate Laurent Gbagbo-were left to stand.
In the afternoon of October 23, 2000, after preliminary results showed Gbagbo leading by a significant margin, security forces marched into the National Electoral Commission (Commission Nationale Electorale, CNE) and stopped the count. Journalists were removed at gunpoint. On October 24, an election official announced on national radio and television that the CNE had been dissolved and that General Guei had won the presidential contest with 56 percent of the vote. 11
For weeks prior to the election Gbagbo had warned that if the election were stolen his supporters would take to the streets in protest. On the afternoon of October 24, 2000, shortly after Guei declared himself president, Gbagbo had a press conference in which he condemned the annulment and called on his supporters to take to the streets in protest. "I demand that in every town and in every neighborhood of Cote d'Ivoire, Ivorian patriots take to the streets until their rights are recognized and until Guei backs off. From that moment, I believe that the transition government will be dissolved and will no longer have any reason to exist."12 As he was speaking, tens of thousands of FPI supporters from throughout greater Abidjan had already started to flood into the streets. While some members of other parties, including the RDR and PDCI also marched, the protesters on October 24, 2000, were overwhelmingly supporters of the FPI.
As they arrived at the city center and national television station, military forces loyal to General Guei, particularly the Red Brigade, an elite unit within the Presidential Guard, opened fire directly into the crowds with little or no warning. Thousands of protesters on their way into Abidjan's central Plateau District were fired on as they attempted to cross over the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge, and in some cases after having jumped into the water of the Ébrié Lagoon to escape the gunfire. Others were shot as they attempted to cross to safety in boats. Many of those who were forced to jump into the lagoon later drowned. At least eighteen bodies, including those of several adolescents, were later found in the lagoon.
On October 24, 2000, a thirty-two-year-old FPI leader was on the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge with thousands of other protesters when soldiers from the Red Brigade opened fire, forcing demonstrators to jump into the lagoon. He recounted:13
As we marched the demonstration grew and grew; we were in our hundreds if not thousands. As we entered the bridge I could see about forty military men lined up on the other side. We sat down for a while on the bridge and started singing and chanting pro-Gbagbo slogans to show them we wanted to have a peaceful demonstration. The military started launching tear gas at us and we threw it back at them.
Then I heard the military screaming `GO!' At first I thought they were about to fire more teargas, but then I heard gunfire and realized they were shooting at us. People started to run helter-skelter. A lot of people jumped into the water to escape-they couldn't run backwards, couldn't run forwards. There was no place to go. Then I saw several soldiers firing at the people who'd jumped into the lagoon.
Several people near me were hit. I took off running with some others but six soldiers, including one in civilian dress, chased us for some minutes through the streets-firing the whole time. All of a sudden I felt pain and saw blood running down my leg. Then the guy next to me was hit in the back. Somehow I managed to escape and was later taken to a police station with three other wounded. The man who'd been hit next to me died shortly after.
A boat owner who witnessed what happened to the demonstrators after being chased off the bridge, and who later helped fish many bodies out of the lagoon described what he saw:14
On Tuesday, [October 24] at around 3-4:00 p.m., I saw hundreds of marchers running down to the port from the direction of the bridge. They were being shot at from all sides. Then about twenty soldiers who'd been waiting near the port intercepted them and started beating the people. They made them lie down on the ground and the soldier walked on them, kicked them, hit them with their guns and whipped them with their belts. They walked on one woman's face and she lost her teeth.
For several hours I saw soldiers running around chasing and shooting at the demonstrators. They chased them through the streets and into the lagoon. When the soldiers weren't looking we'd help pull them out of the water.
On Wednesday, [October 25] me and several other boat owners fished nine bodies out of the water; six men and three women. Five of them had bullet wounds, mostly on the chest and arms. Three of them were very young; around thirteen to fifteen. There was one fourteen-year-old shoeshine boy I know. His mother came and identified the body.
On Thursday morning, [October 26] we fished another nine bodies out of the lagoon and put their bodies on the dock. They were all young men. Four of them had bullet wounds and five seemed to have drowned.
Many people were killed and injured when jeeps used by the Red Brigade drove directly into the crowds in both the Plateau and Cocody Districts. At least two FPI supporters were killed after two grenades or small mortars were fired into a crowd of protesters. Numerous victims and witnesses saw the Red Brigade's leader, Sergeant Boka Yapi, directing operations in which serious abuses were committed.15
As pressure mounted on General Guei, a few hundred mostly FPI supporters were rounded up and detained within the Presidential Palace. There, many were beaten and several, including a pregnant woman, were tortured. Many of these FPI detainees were later transferred to the Abgan Gendarme Camp or National Police Academy, where most were held for a matter of hours. The FPI detainees did not describe serious ill treatment at either facility. The widespread and in many cases severe abuse suffered by RDR supporters and of actual and suspected foreigners, who were two days later detained within the same facilities, is striking by contrast.
A nineteen-year-old FPI supporter jumped off the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge as the Presidential Guard opened up on a large demonstration on October 24, 2000. He described his capture and subsequent treatment while in the overnight custody of both the Presidential Guard and police:16
It was a stand off. About ten of them opened fire at us on the bridge and we had no choice but to jump into the water. They followed us as we tried to swim to shore, and we eventually had to give ourselves up. They captured over thirty of us. First they stripped us to our underwear and then forced us to walk down the Rue de Commerce in one line to the Presidential Palace. They kicked us in the testicles as we marched. Then about 100 meters from the entrance to the Palace they forced us to walk on our knees and as we entered, the military inside were clapping their hands and cheering.
Inside the palace compound, people, women no less than men, were whipped and beaten with the buckles of their belts. We were among the second group to enter; all those in the first group were bleeding and swollen from the beating. One young man who was bleeding asked for water. A soldier came up to him with a bottle of water, put it in his mouth and pushed it down, rough, into his throat.
They said things like; "why are you people marching? Our president, is he not Ivorian? Is that not what's most important? They're both from the west aren't they?"
After four hours several trucks took all of us to the National Police Academy where they took our names, gave us water. We were not beaten again. We were released the next morning around 10:00 a.m. The police were angry about what had happened to us.
A thirty-two-year-old woman was one of four women detained and held within the Presidential Palace on October 24, 2000. She described how a pregnant woman among them lost her baby as a result of the beating:17
I joined the demonstrations on Tuesday. When we arrived at the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge, the military on the other side started firing straight into the demonstration. People scattered and I fell down. Then two soldiers came up to me and beat me with the butt of their guns. They threw me into a big truck with about fifty other demonstrators and took us to the Presidential Palace.
The women were allowed to keep their clothes on. All of us were beaten badly. There were four women in my group. One of them was at least six months pregnant. One of the soldiers pulled my bra down, grabbed me by the breasts and started pulling me around the room. At one point, the pregnant woman responded to the insulting language and said, "You have mothers at home too." One of the soldiers reacted furiously, pushed her to the ground on her back and subsequently stepped on her belly. Then a few others followed and stepped on top of her belly from both sides. She started bleeding shortly afterwards.
Around 8:00 that night, all four of us were taken to the military hospital. The pregnant woman lost her baby. Another woman had one of her ears sewn back on. The third woman had head injuries and a broken arm. I have bruises all over my body and breasts and I'm still taking medication for my head.
On Wednesday October 25, 2000, pre-dawn fighting within the Akouedo military base signaled the beginning of a dramatic shift of support by the security forces from General Guei to Laurent Gbagbo. This shift in turn signaled the end of General Guei's rule. In the early morning FPI crowds again took to the streets at first light and for several hours were again fired upon primarily by members of the Presidential Guard. However, later that morning, the gendarmes, police, and most members of the army except the Red Brigade withdrew their support for General Guei and started demonstrating their overt support for Gbagbo. Numerous truckloads of gendarmes were seen driving through the crowds giving the V for victory, the FPI party sign. As the hours progressed more and more security forces joined the ranks of the protesters and eventually FPI demonstrators overran state radio and television facilities. By the afternoon, national radio and television reported that Guei had stepped down and fled the country.
During the afternoon and early evening of October 25, 2000, as thousands of jubilant FPI supporters celebrated the victory of their leader, thousands of RDR supporters took to the streets demanding that new elections be held. RDR leaders claimed the election was flawed and illegitimate, and maintained that Gbagbo's popularity was far less than that of Ouattara or PDCI candidate Emile Constant Bombet, who had both been barred from running by the Supreme Court. The results later released by the National Electoral Commission showed the turnout had in fact been low: 37 percent of the registered voters.18 These results gave an absolute Gbagbo majority, with 59.6 percent of the votes cast, versus 32.7 percent for Guei.19
As the FPI protesters celebrated, Gbagbo, in a nationally televised speech that evening, paid tribute to his supporters, "I thank you for spontaneously and massively heeding my appeal. You came out in hundreds of thousands into the streets all over the national territory to ensure that right will prevail over might." He declared himself as president and also thanked the security forces for their backing, "I want to pay a particular tribute to our national armed forces-the gendarmerie, the police force-who decided to uphold the cause of democracy and of the Republic by siding with us."20
On Thursday October 26, 2000, infuriated by Gbagbo's national address the night before, thousands of RDR protesters from neighborhoods all over Abidjan took to the streets in protest. They set up barricades of burning tires and debris, and thousands set out to demonstrate their disapproval of Gbagbo's taking power. In an interview later in the day, RDR leader Ouattara pledged his support for the protests and said, "We are going to demand free elections and we will continue the demonstrations until we have those free elections. We want new elections with a minimum of delay and we think the elections can take place even within three weeks. "21
From the morning of October 26, 2000, the security forces, primarily the paramilitary gendarmes and the police, responded with what appeared to be a well organized operation to break up the protests and impede the demonstrators from converging on the city center, the national television station, and other strategic locations. From that day, the army and Presidential Guard largely stayed in their barracks, and Boka Yapi's Red Brigade were rumored to have fled to the rural areas. The police and the gendarmes appeared to adopt an overtly political agenda, suppressing RDR dissent on behalf of the new ruling party, the FPI.
As RDR supporters attempted to leave the crowded residential neighborhoods of Abobo, Yopougon, Koumassi, Treichville, and Adjame, they were met by gendarmes and police who broke up the demonstrations, and in several cases opened fire on them. In many cases RDR demonstrators, among them members of the ethnically-based traditional hunting structures called Dozos, were armed with machetes, rocks, machetes and hunting rifles. However, there was little effort by the security forces to limit casualties, distinguish between nonviolent demonstrators and armed elements, or use less lethal forms of crowd control. Tear gas was, however, widely used.
In the evening of October 26, 2000, President Gbagbo was sworn in as president. In his inaugural address he said he intended to form a government of national unity and promised to unite the country after months of divisive military rule. He appealed for calm saying, "I call for all Ivorians to rally together for the respect of those principles and values that make our country great - pardon, tolerance and solidarity."22 However he rejected pleas for new elections despite calls to do so from the RDR, as well as the U.N., the OAU, South Africa and the United States.23
The government estimated that 164 people were killed during the October 24-26, 2000, violence in Abidjan alone.24 The RDR maintained 155 of its supporters were killed,25 while the FPI put their number of dead at approximately sixty.26 During the same period the Ivorian Red Cross in Abidjan evacuated 158 and treated 896 wounded.27
Throughout the day hundreds of protesters were rounded up and taken to one of several facilities including the National Police Academy (École Nationale de Police), Agban Gendarme Camp (Gendarmerie Agban), Gendarme Camp of Koumassi (Escadron Koumassi de la Gendarmerie), Gendarme Camp of Abobo (Escadron Abobo de la Gendarmerie), and Gendarme Camp of Yopougon (Escadron Yopougon de la Gendarmerie).28 Some six hundred detainees were held, most of them for two to four days. From the moment of capture nearly all detainees were subjected to brutal treatment. Human Rights Watch interviewed scores of detainees, all of whom were subjected to some degree of ill-treatment while in custody, ranging from mild beatings to severe torture.
The majority of detainees were held in either the National Police Academy (between 200 and 300) or the Agban Gendarme Camp (some 150). It was also in these two facilities that detainees suffered the most severe treatment. Detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, many still exhibiting wounds and scars, described being beaten with iron bars, electrical cable, ropes, belts, truncheons, chains, dog collars, gun butts, and pieces of wood. They were burned with cigarettes, pieces of burning plastic or clothing, and forced to swim in dirty open sewers. They were also forced to walk back and forth on their knees; made to lay under and look into the sun; tear-gassed at close quarters and sprayed in the eyes, mouth, and genitals with tear gas and mace; forced to fight with each other; and made to drink their own blood. Local clinics and hospitals treated hundreds of wounded. Almost all detainees were kept incommunicado and were deprived of food, water, and toilet facilities for the first several days of their detention. To secure the release of detainees, numerous family members reported having to pay bribes to corrupt police and gendarmes.
A twenty-five-year-old tailor described his two-day detention in the Agban Gendarme Camp during October. Some twenty bruises, burns, and small wounds on his head and body were clearly visible to Human Rights Watch researchers:29
At around 1:00 p.m. on October 26, I was participating in a march with other RDR militants when I was captured with five other guys. After reaching the camp they made us swim in the gutter full of dirty water, broken bottles, human feces, and garbage. One of them forced my head under the half-meter deep water. As we moved through the gutter, gendarmes were lined up and beat us hard on the head with the butts of their rifles.
Then they told us to take our clothes off and walk on our knees for over twenty meters. They continued beating us and one of them hit my penis with the hook on his red belt. It was so painful, it was bleeding and I started screaming. One of them said, `oh if we've hurt you there, don't worry, we have doctors here,' then he called another gendarme who sprayed a little can of what I think was tear gas on my penis, nose, and eyes. I almost lost consciousness.
Entering Camp Agban I saw there were about one hundred other prisoners. They didn't ask us any questions. They spoke of the RDR, made us all say, `Alassane is a Burkinabé,' and made us sing the national anthem. The beat us using their belts, wooden sticks and iron bars. At one point they took our clothes, which were in a pile outside the entrance, set them on fire and went around dropping the bits of burning cloth on our legs and backs. They picked clothes with plastic in them-like sports suits-because they burned better.
Then, around 6:00 am the next morning, they told us to wash all the blood off the walls from the place where we were being held. It was an open area with a cement floor and no roof. We washed all of it-and there was a lot of blood-but one gendarme came and said it wasn't clean enough. We washed it again and then they made us do push-ups. One prisoner was so wounded he couldn't do the push-ups and a gendarme came and kicked him hard. Then they ordered us to clean the offices of the gendarmes. Finally they gave us clothes and let us go.
Detainees being held within the National Police Academy were beaten by both cadets and officers. A nineteen-year-old RDR activist who spent six days there described his experience:30
From the moment we arrived at the Academy on October 26, the police started beating us. By 9:00 p.m. or so there were about 300 people. I stayed in for several days and was beaten and tortured by both policemen and cadets. It was the Police Academy; I guess they were teaching the cadets how to behave. Some were with two `V's' [a sergeant]31 and others had the markings of students.
We were all in one big room and they tortured us in many ways. First were the constant beatings; with batons, wood, cut tree branches. The police kept waking us up by throwing cold water on us. Then they had us-two-by-two-crawl a distance on our knees and the one who arrived last was beaten. They'd put two of us together and order us to fight, and if they say we're faking, they beat us up. Sometimes they walked on our backs.
I don't think anyone died in custody but I saw a good number of people who'd lost consciousness and people who couldn't stand anymore.
They made us chant, `Alassane is Mousi [Burkinabé] and Gbagbo President.' On Friday some of the police were talking about a gendarme who had been killed and then on Saturday, a few police brought in a newspaper with the news and pictures of the Yopougon massacre and said, "this is the way you should've been killed...but you're lucky, you're in the police academy."
There were parents outside waiting to get their children and I understand they were paying 5,000 CFA [U.S.$7] to free them. We later heard one woman paid 20,000 CFA [U.S.$28] but they didn't let her son go. I think some people were being passed off as relatives of the police officers but were in fact just paying them off. I was finally let go on Monday evening at around 9:00 p.m. when a friend's mother paid about 4,000 CFA [U.S.$6] for each of us.
State security forces were first reported to be actively siding with FPI supporters to suppress political dissent and attack RDR supporters, northern Muslims and foreigners on October 26, 2000. Several RDR supporters detained within police stations and gendarme bases reported having been initially detained by FPI supporters, who then handed them over to the state security forces.
Raphael Lapke, fifty, the editor of a small newspaper and an RDR supporter from Gbagbo's ethnic group, the Bete, was detained by a group of FPI supporters in the early morning of October 26, 2000 and later handed over to the paramilitary gendarmes. He was later held and beaten for several hours within the Gendarme Camp of Koumassi. He described his capture and the seemingly political motive for his detention:32
I used to work closely with Laurent Gbagbo. I was the one who created his newspaper, Notre Voix. Then we had a disagreement and in l995, I left. On October 26 at around 6:30 in the morning I took a stroll from my house to the junction to see what was happening. A few RDR people had started blocking the road but there were some FPI people around too. One of them recognized me, whistled and then the others surrounded me. They asked me what I was doing and I told them the RDR was going to demonstrate in the morning and I was going to join them. I said, "You're not public security, you're not there to say if we can demonstrate or not." They accused me of having left my brother to go to a party of foreigners. I tried to remind them that we struggled with Gbagbo so that we could all be free but that now they were trying to prevent political expression. This angered them. They started beating us and then took us to a small group of gendarmes who were guarding a nearby factory. These gendarmes called their superiors and fifteen minutes later a jeep with ten gendarmes came and took us to the Gendarme Camp at Koumassi.
As soon as we arrived the gendarmes threatened to kill me, and started saying the same things as the FPI militants: `we don't understand how you can leave your brother and go with those foreigners, you should be happy a westerner is president.' They ordered us to take off our clothes and lie down, and then started beating us on the back. All ten of them beat me with their belts. They said they were going to beat me to death. There's a heavy iron buckle on those rope-belts they use. It gave me open wounds and cut open the skull of one of my employees who'd also been captured.
Human Rights Watch documented several serious cases of sexual abuse in October, most within the Agban Gendarme Camp. There, several women were stripped naked, beaten, ordered to spread their legs, and threatened with sexual assault with tree branches. At least five male prisoners were ordered to get an erection in order to rape women detainees. When the men were unable to do so, they were struck repeatedly with a belt buckle on the head of the penis. In the Yopougon Gendarme Camp, at least one man was led around by a string tied to his penis. Nurses and doctors treating the wounded confirmed treating several men whose genitals had been badly wounded while in detention.33
A thirty-four-year-old RDR supporter who suffered multiple head injuries, burns and a broken right arm while in the Agban Gendarme Camp, described seeing sexual abuse against both men and women. He recounted:34
They also treated the women very badly. There were about nine or ten of them and they were completely naked. At one point they told the women to stand up and spread their legs and they took branches from an acacia tree they'd broken off and it looked like they put them inside of them. I couldn't see if they actually did it but the women were crying. One of the gendarmes tried to stop it and said, `but these could be your sister or your mother'; but another just said, "our mothers and women are at home, not out in the street." Then one of the gendarmes picked on a particular woman and grabbed her breasts and started pulling her in circles around the room.
Then they'd just point at one of us and order us to stand. Then they inspected our private parts. They said they were looking for the biggest ones to rape the women. Then they told five boys to get an erection and rape the women. But they couldn't and then the gendarmes walked up to those men, took their penis in the palm of their hand and hit it, hard, with the buckle of their belts. They screamed from the pain and they were bleeding. They hit all five men like this.
Victimization on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion
From October 26, 2000, the violence also developed a clear ethnic and religious focus. The victims were not only supporters of Alassane Ouattara's RDR party, but also foreigners, Muslims, and Ivorians from northern ethnic groups who were identified with the RDR but targeted explicitly on the basis of their ethnic group, religion, and/or foreign nationality. Scores of victims from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, or Dioula from northern Côte d'Ivoire, described being dragged out of their homes, pulled off of buses, stopped randomly in the street, or chased by groups of gendarmes or police. Numerous witnesses described members of non-northern ethnic groups being allowed to proceed at checkpoints and freed from detention after verifying their place of origin. Witnesses and victims said well over one hundred foreigners were among those being held within the National Police Academy.
An elderly Muslim man who witnessed thirteen foreigners, RDR supporters, and Dioulas being gunned down by gendarmes on October 26, 2000, was among many who described how Ivorians from other ethnic groups were let go:35
While we were lying there being beaten, a group of four people came by; two men and two women. I saw the gendarme stop them and ask them for their ID papers. After looking, the gendarme said, `you can go, it's not Baoules we want, it is the Dioula we're looking for.'
The comments made by both state security forces and FPI while capturing, taunting and torturing, or indeed before killing their victims illuminated the depth to which ethnic hatred and xenophobia had taken root.
On October 26, 2000, Muslims and mosques also came under joint attack by FPI militants and police. In several cases Muslims were accused of harboring arms in the mosques but police made no effort to establish whether or not this was true. Instead, Muslims were "accused" of supporting the RDR supporters and subsequently punished. In detention, Muslims were often insulted and forced to break religious rules.
In Yopougon, after several hundred FPI supporters surrounded and threatened to burn down the Aicha Niangon-Sud mosque, the frightened mosque officials telephoned the police for help. Police from two districts responded, but instead of dispersing the mob, they allowed the mob to enter and proceeded to detain the Muslims trying to protect their mosque. Some thirty Muslims were then taken into custody, and held and tortured in the National Police Academy for several days. One of the congregation described what happened:36
At around 9:30 a.m., I received a call from the imam telling me to be careful because mobs had already burned down another mosque in Yopougon. At first we thought it was a rumor, but to be sure we did a call to prayer, to get members of our Mosque to come and help protect it. After they came, we saw a huge group of people―a few hundred-coming towards the mosque. When they arrived they surrounded us and started knocking at the gate and throwing rocks inside the compound.
We saw the mob was also armed with iron bars, machetes, rocks, knives, wood and they were yelling, `no more RDR, no more Dioulas, we've come to kill you, it's time to finish with the Muslims.' Some of them said they'd heard a church had been burned. We could see they had cans of petrol.
When we realized things were getting out of control, we called the police from the 17th precinct to help protect us and the mosque.
When the police entered, they told us they were going to take us out of there. By this time the mob was starting to break down the gate. As we got into their cars they assured us they'd protect our mosque. This was around 11:45 a.m. As we left we could see the attackers were FPI militants; they were putting up the `V' sign the FPI uses. It was when the police put up the same `V' sign as they were taking us out that we first suspected something was wrong.
Then it got worse. We knew something was really wrong when on our way going, the police started saying, `you aren't true citizens of this country, you're going to be sent back to where you came from and if you don't understand that, we'll wake you up one by one when you're on top of your women and kill you.'
When we arrived at the 17th police precinct they put us inside a closed room then the next morning they told us to write all our names down and explained we were to be sent to the Police Academy. When we asked what our crime was, they explained that we were holding RDR meetings in the mosque. They asked us what we were doing in the mosque so early in the morning and accused us of organizing ourselves to go out and burn churches.
At around the same time on October 26, 2000, a mob of FPI militants and a small patrol of police attacked and threatened to burn down a mosque in Treichville. A twenty-five-year-old mosque-goer, who was shot in the arm by the police during the attack, described what happened.37
I was at home with my sister when at around l0:00 a.m. we received a call from our imam saying people had started attacking mosques and that a mob wanted to burn our own. He told us to prepare ourselves to come and protect our mosque.
We quickly went to the mosque, picked up some stones and waited to see what would happen. We were about forty men and women. Then we saw a group of about twenty FPI militants coming towards the mosque. Many of the FPI people I recognized because they were from my neighborhood. In back of the mob I saw a police patrol car with four policemen walking outside of it. I even knew some of the police. The pickup had `2nd District' written on it.
The FPI people had wood, machetes and a few had bottles of petrol. Then the mob started throwing rocks and the police threw tear gas at us. The FPI were saying they were going to burn the mosque and kill the Dioula. They said we should go away from Côte d'Ivoire and that they were going to catch all foreigners, especially the Burkinabés. We threw a lot of rocks at them. The FPI people then retreated a bit and let the police come in front from where they threw more tear gas at us. When one of the police officers closest to where I was stopped to change his clip, I ran for it, but was shot in the arm. The fighting lasted for about fifteen minutes before they gave up and left.
A forty-year-old Dioula driver described how he was rounded up from his neighborhood with other Dioula men before being taken to the National Police Academy:38
On Thursday [October 26] at around 4:00 p.m. as I was getting ready for afternoon prayer, around ten police, including two women from the 13th District Police arrived in two civilian cars. They parked in front of my compound,39 got out and announced that everyone who's a Dioula should come out. They were dressed in solid green. They asked us to show our ID cards, and ordered the Dioula men to lie in the gutter. Since I had been inside praying, my wife lied and said that I was out. But then they pointed a gun at her and that obliged me to come outside.
Then without telling us why, they loaded us in two civilian cars and took us to the 13th District. They didn't interrogate us or ask us any questions. They just `accused' us of supporting Alassane. They beat us, walked on our back and threw cold water on us. We spent the night there and then the next morning they drove around picking up other prisoners until we were about forty in numbers.
Along the way they told us to collect money together so we would be let go. We took up a collection but then they took our money and brought us to the Ecole de Police anyway.
RDR supporters also sought out and attacked people on the basis of ethnicity; in their case those from non-Dioula ethnic groups. A young woman from Abobo who supports the FPI was attacked by an RDR mob in her home in October and described how the mob targeted ethnic Baoules and Betes:40
A few of them kicked the door in and shouted that they were looking for Betes. They asked my two brothers for identification papers. My brothers replied that we belong to the PDCI, that we didn't even vote, and that we were Baoules and not Betes. The intruders shouted that we were all the same, that we were the ones who were happy when Gbagbo won the elections.
There were several attacks against churches by RDR supporters, resulting in the destruction of church buildings, bibles, pews, vehicles, and other property. Whereas state security forces had overtly sided with FPI mobs during attacks against mosques, they intervened to halt attacks against churches. A member of an evangelical church in the Port Bouet II neighborhood in Yopougon described how gendarmes stepped in to protect it and him from an RDR mob:41
At 9:00 a.m. my people told me that the church was on fire. About ten of us rushed to see for ourselves. Just in front of it we saw a group of RDR people with stones, knives, and machetes. They were saying, `they burned our mosque and now it's their turn. Where is your pastor, we'll kill him.' The pews, bibles, books, and other documents and office equipment from the church were on fire just outside the entrance. They were throwing rocks and breaking the windows. Then the gendarmes arrived and chased them away. After that everything calmed down.
Numerous men captured by police and paramilitary gendarmes during the October wave of violence have at this writing yet to be accounted for. All fifteen victims of "disappearance" documented by Human Rights Watch were either politically aligned with the RDR, foreigners, or from northern ethnic groups, and were detained or last seen in the afternoon of October 26, 2000. All but one was last seen in the RDR stronghold of Abobo. Most witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the "disappeared" family members were seized from their homes or in their neighborhoods by men in uniform, sometimes accompanied by armed men in civilian dress. They described spending days searching for their relatives in morgues, hospitals, prisons, and police and gendarme barracks. The most serious case followed the detention by police of nine men from Abobo. Three witnesses said the nine, several of whom are from the same extended Dioula family, were captured by a combination of uniformed and plain-clothed policemen. None of the security forces have acknowledged the detentions. One of the witnesses, the wife of one of the victims, described the detention:42
I am the wife of S. We have a four-year-old child and I'm nine months pregnant with our second. My husband is Ivorian as are all of those taken that day. They weren't involved in politics; they are long distance truck drivers and didn't have time for that. We are one of the few Dioula families living within our immediate area; there are Baoules, Betes, and Agnis around us. Maybe that's why they targeted us.
The whole thing happened in less than five minutes. It was around 3:40 p.m. on October 26. I heard a knock on the door to the compound, and we heard them say, `It's the police and if you don't open, we'll kill you all.' Then my husband opened the door and eight of them stormed into the family compound. Some, I think three, were in T-shirts and jeans and others were in combats. All of them had pistols except the boss; he had a long gun.
The boss did most of the talking. He was in a ski mask and seemed really nervous. He told them to take their shirts off and threatened to kill us all. There was a handicapped man in one of the rooms in the compound and when his children started crying, the boss said he should be left alone. He was the only man they left.
Then our men were ordered to move out of the house and we [the wives] started crying and begging them to leave our husbands. Outside we saw there was a mini-bus and I saw what I think were three other prisoners inside. A few of them were bleeding. I wouldn't leave my husband and followed him as he and the others were led outside. I asked, `why are you taking them, what have they done?' And one of them said, `you people are Dioula, just wait and see what we'll do to you. You should stop following Alassane.' Another who spoke Dioula said, `don't worry, we'll make them suffer a little and then bring them back.' I was crying and wouldn't let go of the back of the mini-bus as my husband got inside. I begged them to tell me where he was being taken, but one of the police pushed me hard and said I asked too many questions.
The mother of a twenty-eight-year-old man who was dragged out of the family home in Abobo by paramilitary gendarmes described what happened:43
On Thursday, there were a lot of problems in Abobo so we'd closed the door to the compound. Between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. the gendarmes came and took my son. We heard a knock on our door and seven of them forced their way into the compound yelling at everyone to get out. Some had anti-riot gear and I can't remember what they were dressed in or much of what they said. All I knew was they were taking my son. Then they dragged him away; they didn't even ask for his papers.
I begged for him and as three of the gendarmes dragged him out of our house and up the street I followed them pleading for them to leave him. I stayed with them until we reached the corner [about 300 meters] and then they told me to go back. I refused but they said that if I don't go back they'd kill me. They said he had been arrested but didn't say why. Then they rounded the corner with him and that's the last time I ever saw him again. He was my first-born. I heard he was put inside a truck with other men but I didn't see this. We've checked all the hospitals, morgues, and prisons again and again but he's not there. My son was a member of the RDR but he hadn't participated in any of the marches that day.
A thirty-one-year-old driver from Burkina Faso was captured in Abobo on October 26 by one uniformed gendarme and two armed men in civilian dress, and has since "disappeared." The victim's brother, also present during the incident, described how he was able to break free from his captors:44
All day it had been quite tense but in the afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., it seemed things were calming down so my brother and I decided to venture outside. Shortly after going outside, we suddenly saw the gendarmes; one in uniform and two in civilian dress. The ones in civilian had khaki colored pants, one wore a gray T-shirt, and the other an African print shirt, and both had pistols-one in his hand and the others in the waist. The one in uniform had an AK-47. All had boots. The gendarme was dressed in the typical gendarme way.
I saw them running towards us; the uniformed gendarme in front and the two civilians behind. As soon as we saw them we took off running headed straight back to our compound. First they grabbed me by the neck but I struggled with them and was able to get away, and then I saw that the uniformed gendarme had gotten hold of my brother. As I struggled to get away I saw that they were beating my brother and then I freed myself and ran back into the compound, slammed the door, and that was the last time we ever saw him.
Derrière Rail: Reprisal Killings
The violence in October worsened following the killing, allegedly by RDR supporters, of a gendarme officer in the Derrière Rail section of Abobo at approximately 1:15 p.m. on October 26, 2000. After news of the killing of Lieutenant Nyobo N'Guessan spread, gendarmes, particularly those based in Gendarme Camp of Abobo, went on a killing spree, randomly hunting down and killing some twenty young men they had targeted for being RDR supporters, foreigners, and/or Muslims. The massacre of thirty to forty young men detained within the Gendarme Camp of Abobo appeared to have been an impulsive reaction by at least two gendarmes to the news of the gendarme's death. At least eleven of the cases of "disappearance" documented by Human Rights Watch were from the Derrière Rail neighborhood, and were of men captured and last seen around the same time that afternoon.
According to several witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Lt. Nyobo N'Guessan was shot inside the house of a Dioula family after he and two other gendarmes had forced their way inside, allegedly to search the premises. Family members present say Lt. Nyobo N'Guessan was accidentally killed by the sons of an elderly man as he was being beaten by the lieutenant. They maintain one of the sons grabbed one of the gendarme's guns and a round went off.45 This account could not be independently verified. According to residents of Derrière Rail, the death of the gendarme was followed by the deployment of scores of well-armed gendarmes who then began apparently randomly searching and detaining residents. Survivors and witnesses of the killing within the Gendarme Camp of Abobo, and of two smaller group killings of thirteen and at least three men respectively, said the gendarmes doing the killing repeatedly said the victims were being made to pay for the death of their gendarme comrade.
A man who lived across the street from where the gendarme officer was killed described events as he witnessed them from his house:46
I was in my house on Thursday, October 26, when at around 13:05 a brother came to inform me that the gendarmes were running around breaking doors down in our neighborhood. We stayed inside and looked out the window to see what was going on. Some minutes later I saw the first group of gendarmes coming down our street.
Then three gendarmes went into the house across the street ― about ten meters from where I live. A Dioula family lives there. First they broke the door down, then they entered. Then a little while later we heard yelling and a shot. We later learned it was an officer who'd been killed inside the courtyard. Shortly after the shot, the two other gendarmes who'd entered the house went away.
Then about fifteen to thirty minutes later, around 14:15, a reinforcement of three vehicles came to pick up the body; including a jeep and an armored car. Then an hour or so later another reinforcement came. They stayed in the neighborhood breaking down peoples' doors and screaming, `you're all RDR, we'll kill you all.' During this time I saw many people beaten, many houses broken into, and lots of tear gas was fired at us. They were the gendarme commandos, with red berets.
After numerous interviews with victims and witnesses from Derrière Rail, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of at least eighteen other men killed in four separate incidents. All the victims were dragged out of their homes or detained while walking home, and then gunned down within the neighborhood. Many of the victims were foreigners.
An elderly Malian man, apparently detained because he was wearing a Muslim robe, was one of fourteen men gunned down, but survived. His account was verified by several others living within view of where the killings took place. He recounted the incident of which he claims to be the only survivor:47
On Thursday October 26, at around 2:00 p.m. I left my house to do an errand. On my way I saw the gendarmes were all around. A minute later they saw me and ordered me to come to them. They said there were going to kill me because I'm a Dioula, because I'm a Muslim. I was wearing my bobo [robe] and slippers so they knew I was a Muslim. After hearing that I took off running across the railway line but was unfortunately caught by another gendarme. I begged them to forgive me-I shouldn't really have to ask forgiveness for anything but I figured my life was more important than my pride.
The gendarme who'd caught me told me to lie down on the railway and then the others said, no, I should join another group of prisoners nearby. As I was led to this place I saw there were thirteen prisoners; even though I'm old my mind is sharp and I took time to count. The gendarmes were all around and they kept pointing their guns at us. When I arrived they told me to take off my bobo and lay down on the grass with the others.
While lying there the gendarmes asked our nationality, which is how I came to know there was also one Burkinabé and one Mauritanian among us. One of them said, `all of you are RDR, all of you are Dioula.' They beat us for about thirty minutes. They kicked and beat us with the thick iron buckles of their red belts. They were especially tough on the younger men but left me alone because I'm old. We were asking pardon and telling them we were sorry. One gendarme came by and said, "haven't you killed these people yet?"
Then after about thirty minutes of this a light-skinned gendarme said again, `what are you waiting for, why haven't you finished these people yet? All of these people are Alassane's people.' And then this one started firing. Maybe others were firing as well. I couldn't tell. But I was sure about the light-skinned one. It seemed like he fired back and forth for about three to five minutes.
I don't know why I wasn't hit. Perhaps it was because I was the only elder. But God saved me. Sometime later a truck came to take the bodies but they allowed me to go. I was really in shock.
An elder living within the neighborhood was also a witness to the killing of the thirteen. He described the operation to round up the victims and heard the gendarmes discussing the death of their comrade. He recounted:48
On Thursday [October 26], a blue truck used by the gendarmes arrived here and parked right in front of my house and about twenty gendarmes jumped out. We were afraid and all ran inside our houses and closed the doors. As they deployed throughout the neighborhood I could see they were all well armed with AK-47s.
Then about an hour later I saw them come marching up the road with twelve young men. I counted them as they filed past my window. I didn't count the gendarmes but it seemed like there was a gendarme walking by each prisoner. When they arrived at the corner, just close to my house, I could see the gendarmes were beating the prisoners and I heard a gendarme saying, `one dead gendarme is worth one hundred dead RDR people.'
There was a group of five gendarmes who had been participating in the beatings and, maybe because they were tired, had come to rest under my window. I heard them saying `the little Dioula-today we'll finish them today. When the chief comes I'm going to ask permission to break them.' Then at around 3:00 p.m., after they'd been resting for several minutes, one of them said, `after all this why are we keeping these people, why haven't we finished them off?' Another one of the five told him they should wait and not do anything-he was the only one who tried to stop it. But the impatient one-he was quite clear-skinned-just walked up to the people lying on the grass and started shooting.
The one I thought was the boss-he was clearly dressed differently; he had black pants with a red line, a t-shirt, and a walkie-talkie, and was the only one with a pistol-had earlier walked into the neighborhood and wasn't there when the killing took place.
Several residents of a house close to where the killings described above took place recounted how a young Malian passing by was chased by and later gunned down by gendarmes. The man's elderly father told Human Rights Watch he later counted seventeen bullet holes in his son's body. Human Rights Watch counted over twenty bullet casings at the scene.49
Suddenly a young man jumped over the wall and came into our compound, bleeding. I heard shouting and steps and then a few seconds later a gendarme came over the wall after him and yelled, `Where is he?' I denied that we had anyone, but the gendarme just followed the trail of blood and found the young man crouching behind a door. At around this time we heard loud banging at the door. At first we refused to open but after the gendarmes outside started shooting at the wall, we opened up.
Then seven gendarmes rushed in to take out the youth. Some had black chalk on their faces. They all had AK-47's except the one who seemed to be the boss who had two pistols. I saw that all of them had two `Vs' [a sergeant] except the boss who had one bar [second lieutenant]. He was clearly in charge and giving the orders.
After we let them in they started screaming for all of us to come out of our rooms and one of them pointed his gun at my brother and asked for our ID papers. After looking at them he said, `you're a Dioula, it's you we're looking for.' Then my brother's girlfriend, her sisters and another women started begging for his life. His girlfriend explained, `I'm not a Dioula-I'm a Guerré and he is the father of my child. I live with him and can tell you there's no problem with him.' Just at this moment the other gendarmes were dragging the youth out the door so the one who was on my brothers case just threw down his ID papers and went outside to kill the youth. I really thought all of us would be killed.
They yelled at us and screamed at the youth, `you're an RDR,' and he kept saying, `no I'm not RDR.' As the gendarmes were dragging him outside he was begging for his life and asking for forgiveness. We never heard them ask the youth anything, not even for his ID. Then they told him to run but he was afraid, like he was frozen. Then they just pushed him away from the house and all seven of them got into a line and the boss man-the one with two pistols, gave order and they all opened fire. They were just firing and firing into him.
A fifty-two-year-old bus driver who was captured while on his way home from work was one of seven men, including several foreigners, gunned down in a field near the railway. He was shot through the stomach and pretended he was dead. Three died on the spot and the other who were wounded were taken away:50
At around 2:00 p.m. on Thursday [October 26], as I was on my way home, I was halted by some gendarmes. I saw they had been capturing other people who were gathered off to one side. I gave my ID card and drivers license to one of them and heard him ask his boss, `look, this is a bus station worker from the local station.' Then his boss replied, `I don't care about the place he works, just look where he comes from.' When they saw I had a Dioula name, the boss said, "he's one of those Burkinabés who wants to burn the country and give it to Alassane. But today we're going to do the burning."
After a few minutes the gendarmes, there were about fifteen of them, marched us across the railway line. Then they made us take off all our clothes and told us to lie down. Among us were at least three Malians; two brothers and an older man. The two brothers tried to explain that they'd just come on the bus from Daloa to visit their parents. They still had they luggage bags. But the gendarmes didn't have time for explanations. They beat us in that place for about two hours. They kept saying one of their bosses had been killed, and that some of their guns had been stolen. While they were beating us we could hear a lot of shooting going on. I saw them opening fire into peoples homes. It was like a war going on.
Then at around 4:00 they told us to lay face down and said, `it's your turn now - look up at the sky and then look down at the earth and say good bye because we're going to finish you off.' The gendarmes were all around; there was no way to escape. While lying there I'd given myself to God. But all I wanted to do was ask them permission to go say goodbye to my children and my wife. I could hear the two Malian brothers softly reciting their prayers, "there is but one god," and then the shooting started.
Several detainees within the Agban Gendarme Camp reported that torture with the camp became worse after news of the gendarme's death reached those within the camp. An RDR supporter who'd been detained earlier in the day describes this:51
Over the walkie-talkie of one of the gendarmes we heard something about another one being killed in Derrière Rail. After this things got completely out of control. One screamed, `did you hear that! One of our officers is worth one hundred of you.' Then another threatened, `you people should start saying your last prayers.' It was at this point they started burning us. Then all of a sudden seven new gendarmes arrived at the camp and went crazy; they were savage, beating and walking on top of us and saying they were going to kill us. Another gendarme was going wild, threatening to kill us since one of his gendarme friends had died.
Charnier de Yopougon
In a bid to restore calm following a day of shocking violence, two high-ranking officials from the RDR and FPI appeared together on state television in the evening of October 26, 2000, and called on their activists to desist from protests and stop the violence.52 On October 27, 2000, Ouattara recognized Gbagbo as president and met with him in a further bid to calm tensions. Ouattara refused however, to participate in the new government, insisting that "our priority is to bury our dead."53 All thought of reconciliation was in any event set aside by the discovery of the victims of a security force massacre later that day.
In the late afternoon of October 27, the bullet-ridden bodies of fifty-seven young men were found dumped in two piles in a forest clearing on the outskirts of Yopougon. After speaking with two survivors of and several witnesses to events surrounding the massacre, Human Rights Watch researchers established that paramilitary gendarmes based at the Gendarme Camp of Abobo were directly responsible for the killings. This incident was the single worst atrocity of the election period.
The massacre took place on October 26, 2000 in two stages. The first involved the shooting of detainees at the Gendarme Camp of Abobo, where young men rounded up from Abobo neighborhood were taken during the morning and early afternoon of October 26, 2000. Prior to the shooting detainees were subject to similar forms of brutality and torture to those reported by detainees in the National Police Academy and Agban Gendarme Camp. At approximately 3:00 p.m., as an ambulance carrying the body of Lt. Nyobo N'Guessan drove into the camp, at least two gendarmes opened fire on the detainees held there, killing some thirty to forty.
The second stage showed the signs of being a well-planned operation. Well-armed gendarmes deployed into a neighborhood bordering the Gendarme Camp of Abobo and rounded up between eight and thirteen young men who were used as porters to load the dead onto a truck and later dispose of the bodies in the forest. The porters and all other survivors were then gunned down, though some were not killed. These survivors described the presence of one truck, two jeeps, and the involvement of some thirty gendarmes in this operation.
At the time the Gendarme Camp of Abobo was under the command of Captain Victor Be Kpan. While it does not appear that he ordered his men to shoot the detainees inside the camp, he must take responsibility for failing to halt the initial killings or to take action against the gendarmes involved, and for the second part of the massacre which necessitated planning and logistical support.
A twenty-one-year-old man detained by paramilitary gendarmes on October 26 and later taken to the Gendarme Camp of Abobo tells how he witnessed the killing of some thirty to forty other detainees inside the camp. He was later taken to a forest on the outskirts of Abidjan where approximately fifteen men were killed. He told his story:54
I'm an RDR party member and activist. On Thursday morning, October 26, at around 8:00 a.m. I left my home in Abobo to participate in a pro-RDR march to protest the results of the elections. But near the Abobo Cultural Center we met up with a group of gendarmes who detained me with about twenty other RDR militants. They didn't ask for our ID's. We were beaten really severely right there and we then taken to Camp Commando of Abobo.
As we entered at around l0:00 a.m. one of the gendarmes said `Say your last prayers.' When we arrived, there were already eight or nine other people detained. I could see they'd been beaten, badly beaten. Over the next minutes and hours several more groups were brought in. Almost all of us were Dioula.
In Camp Commando I ran into a friend of mine, S., and he told me he'd been arrested while walking by Camp Commando. He explained that after stopping him they'd asked him for his ID and when they saw that he had a Dioula name, he was arrested on the spot. There were two adolescents; one was a student, still in school uniform, aged about thirteen or fourteen, and another, a youth from Benin, around fifteen.
They started beating us from the moment we got off the truck. They ordered us to lie down and whipped us with their red belts. At one point they threw a bucket of water mixed with some kind of burning pepper in it and people screamed from the pain it caused as it went into the open wounds. Then at around 1:00 p.m. they told us to lie on our backs and face the sun. Another torture was when they threw tear gas at us and refused to allow us to move.
Then at around 3:00-3:30 p.m. (it was just after the afternoon call to prayer which we could hear from a nearby mosque), I heard a siren and saw a car coming into the main entrance to the camp. A few gendarmes got out of the car and started yelling and shouting and crying. Then one of the gendarmes in blue just started shooting us. First he shot three newly arrested people with a pistol. It happened less than five meters from where I was sitting.
Then a few other gendarmes started shooting at us. They were yelling in a sobbing, angry way. They were in fits of emotion. One of them said, `We're going to kill you all; if our people are going to die then we'll kill you.' As they were shooting I lay down and pretended I was dead. The youth from Benin was hit and lay just on top of me and was just crying, `Forgive me, have mercy on me.' I could see my friend S. had been hit on the leg, throat and chest. And then [a gendarme] standing several meters away said, `Oh so you're not all dead' and I tried to pretend I was dead.
We all lay there, people dying were breathing heavily. I could hear a boy from Benin saying in a soft voice, `Give me water, I'm so thirsty, bring me water.' After the shooting there were about thirty dead or almost dead, and more seriously wounded. Then about ten lightly injured.
Then about an hour or a so later a new group of prisoners were brought in. Then those prisoners and those of us who weren't wounded were ordered to load up the bodies onto a big blue truck. I loaded one person on the truck and then just stayed there trying not to be noticed.
Then at around 6:00 p.m. we took off. There were about fifteen gendarmes in our truck. They were dressed in full commando uniform and several had bandoliers wound around their waists. We headed north towards the Yopougon Prison and those of us still alive started talking to each other in whispers wondering if they were going to kill us or take us to the prison [in Yopougon]. But mostly we were just silent. There were about thirty to forty gendarmes in total participating in the operation.
Then we got to the place. We were terrified. Then they ordered us to unload the bodies. Since I was in the back of the truck I tried to stay there for as long as I possibly could. Then they ordered us to come and sit next to the dead and dying. Several of us were lying down trying to pretend we were dead but I was lucky because I had lain down first and then two others lay on top of me. It seemed like the dead had been separated from the wounded-maybe to make killing the survivors easier. I remember hearing them talking to each other saying, `Why is it only now you northerners are protesting the election results; three weeks ago you didn't say anything. Now that the General is gone and Gbagbo is a civilian you think you can take over.' Then several of them, I couldn't really count, took up formation in front of us, we heard them loading their guns and the firing started. The boy on top of me received a lot of bullets. He screamed when he was hit and then started groaning and breathing heavily.
After a few minutes of firing, a few of them went around finishing people off. Then they walked near where I was and stopped, noticing the boy lying on top of me was still breathing. I was trying desperately to control my breathing so they wouldn't notice me. It was when they were finishing him off that I was hit. [He was shot once in the arm.]
Then I heard one of them saying, `Let's burn all the bodies,' and another said, `No, they're all dead.' And then I heard the truck and jeeps leaving. I lay there, and after a few minutes saw someone get up from the pile of bodies. There were a few more who started saying, `Help us, help us.' But they were dying and fell silent shortly after.
Another survivor, one of eight youths captured and forced to load the dead and wounded onto a gendarme truck, described his capture and subsequent experience:55
I was in my house at around 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 26 when a friend came to visit me. We talked a while and I decided to walk him home. By this time it was calm and the riots from the morning had quieted down. As we were walking he suggested we go visit another friend, who lived close by in an area of Abobo called Gros Pine [big tire] which we did. There, several of us, all in the same compound, were drinking tea and listening to music. We were eight all together. All of us are Ivorian.
Suddenly we saw five gendarmes storm into the compound. One of them came directly into our room, and about five others stayed near the door. They asked for our IDs, which we showed them, and then the boss ordered us to come outside and sit down. I heard one of the gendarmes ask if we were all Dioula, and we said yes. They were all armed, with pistols, long guns and at least one had a machine gun with bandoliers wrapped around his shoulders. Then we were made to strip and they walked the eight of us out of the courtyard and into the street in a line-we were all completely naked; there were two gendarmes in front and two in back. As we were led away our mothers and sisters were crying and begging for them to leave us. Some of our neighbors were smirking, laughing. It's about a ten-minute walk to their camp, Camp Commando, and as we were getting close the gendarme with the bandoliers said, `you'll soon see the Dioula we've already killed and we're going to kill you too.' Also as we were walking they stopped at another house along the way-I didn't know the owner-and asked a man inside for his ID but he wasn't a Dioula so they didn't take him.
As we walked into Camp Commando, there was another group of about four or five young men, also totally nude, who were being led into the camp by another group of gendarmes. When we entered the camp, in the courtyard just after the entrance, on the left we saw a lot of wounded all lying on top of each other; maybe twenty or so. A lot were totally naked, others had no shirts on. We heard groans and cries; many didn't really move. And straight ahead of the entrance lined up were the dead all lying side by side; some were on their backs, some on stomachs, some totally naked and some with no shirts. I can't tell how many there were but they were at least fifteen.
After seeing this, a group of gendarmes told the ones who'd brought us to take us out to the back. They made us lie down on our stomachs. While lying down a group of gendarmes who were different from the ones who captured us started to beat us. When lying down on our stomachs and in the middle of these beatings, a gendarme who I think was also a boss said `the job is not yet done' and screaming like he was angry said, `you killed one of our colleagues.' This is the only time he said this. I didn't know what he was talking about.
Then...after the beating, by this time it was around 5:00 p.m., I just heard a voice-I didn't see a face because we were lying face down-telling us to get up and then a few gendarmes walked us to where the bodies were. Then one of them said, `pick up the bodies' and we were made to understand we had to pick up the dead and dying bodies and put them in a big blue truck. We were in pairs as we picked them up and carried them to the truck. If they were too heavy we just dragged them. I can't say for sure how many they were but me and my partner picked up five. There were many people picking up the bodies; the eight of us, plus the other group of about five who'd come in after us. And maybe a few more who were already in Camp Commando when we got there. It seemed like we were about twenty carrying the bodies.
It was when I was doing this that I got a good look at their wounds-it seemed all had died of bullet wounds. I saw one of them had bullet wounds in his legs, another in his chest, another in the head.
So after loading them we were ordered to get up in the truck with all the dead and wounded and we drove off. This was around 6:00 p.m. There were a lot of gendarmes in the truck with us and there was a blue jeep in front and a jeep behind. I was so afraid. At first we thought they might be taking us to the prison at Yopougon. It was so silent. No one talked.
Then just near the prison we turned down a little dirt road and drove a few minutes. The cars stopped and the gendarmes told us to get down and unload the bodies which we did; again two by two. We carried the bodies about four or five meters from where the truck was. After unloading one body-that is after the first trip-I just lay face down with the dead bodies and pretended I was dead and then the others started putting bodies on top of me. I heard an order being given for the wounded to be put in one place and the dead in another. And then some minutes later I heard an order being given for all the carriers to sit down; I think near where the wounded were. I couldn't see who gave the order-and then I heard the gunfire.
Before this no one said anything; no one begged for his life. I think the wounded and those still alive were then finished off with handguns because I could distinguish between the rapid fire of the rifle or maybe it was even a machine gun, and the pot pot, single shots of a handgun. I couldn't tell who was directing the operation; I missed a lot because I was face down. After this I waited until I heard the trucks go and then I got up from under the pile of the dead and left.
Fighting between rival supporters from the FPI and RDR parties resulted in numerous deaths. With militants from both sides armed with wood sticks, machetes, iron bars, nail studded clubs, rocks, and in a few cases hunting and automatic rifles, political protests turned into pitched battles between militants of both sides, which in turn degenerated into mob violence in which opponents were often targeted solely on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Sometimes non-politically aligned and often unemployed youth joined ranks with one or the other side. The bloody clashes which ensued were characterized by religious and ethnic tensions as RDR supporters-most of them Muslims from northern-based ethnic groups-battled with FPI supporters, who are mostly Christians from western and southern ethnic groups.
The subsections of Abidjan's neighborhoods are largely divided along ethnic lines, and as tension mounted throughout the day on October 26, men from all sides formed neighborhood defense units to protect their families and property from attacks by rival mobs. By the afternoon after police and gendarmes deployed throughout the city, the RDR supporters and northern Dioulas melted back into their homes for safety. Those from the Agni, Baoule, Bete, and Ébrié neighborhoods remained on the street and in some cases victimized northern Dioulas and Muslims who happened to pass by.
The worst single act of mob violence occurred on October 26, 2000 in Blokosso Village, and resulted in the deaths of at least six men, including one Guinean. Blokosso, one of Abidjan's oldest neighborhoods, is inhabited primarily by people from the Ébrié tribe who were descendants of the original inhabitants of the capital Abidjan.
One edge of the neighborhood is immediately adjacent to the home of RDR leader Ouattara, the gathering point for hundreds of RDR supporters, including armed traditional hunters called Dozos who had taken responsibility for his security.
Clashes between members of the two communities began on the evening of Wednesday October 25, immediately after Gbagbo declared himself president. The next morning the Ébrié community erected barricades at the entrances to the neighborhood to stop RDR supporters from entering. As they were doing this, accompanied by a patrol of gendarmes, RDR supporters became alarmed. Clashes ensued, and RDR militants and Dozos armed with pistols, hunting and automatic rifles advanced into the neighborhood. In the process the RDR militants set a car alight within the compound of a local Catholic church, destroyed property, and gravely wounded a fourteen-year-old boy. Witnesses say the boy was hit as the RDR supporters opened fire indiscriminately into the neighborhood. By noon, many residents of Blokosso decided to evacuate the neighborhood until the situation calmed down.
It was as they were fleeing that five witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch saw the bodies of five youths and the killing of a young Guinean man. There is some discrepancy as to the number of people killed. The Ivorian Red Cross told Human Rights Watch that at approximately 4:00 p.m. the same day they evacuated one badly wounded man from the round-about at Blokosso and counted seven corpses.56 Others interviewed put the number of dead at six.
It is also not clear whether the victims were RDR militants who were killed while retreating back to Ouattara's house, RDR supporters traversing the neighborhood or politically uninvolved civilians targeted for their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. The bodies of the dead exhibited wounds from both bullets and machetes or knifes.
Three witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch witnessed neighborhood youths armed with knives, machetes and rocks in the process of killing two of the youths. Witnesses, however also said that security forces were in the area around the time of the incident. The testimony of one of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch is as follows:57
On Thursday morning, I saw several youths patrolling Ébrié village in groups of three and four. Some of them were wearing bandanas on their faces and others had their faces painted white. They were carrying machetes, knives, stones, and axes.
Around 11:00 a.m., at the roundabout I saw four dead bodies, strewn around the circle. One had a pool of blood by his head, like his head had been crushed by a stone. Then I saw the Guinean getting his throat cut. I knew him; he used to run a little coffee shop in Blokosso. I saw three youths standing around him; one of them cut his throat from behind with a long knife. Another man I didn't know was lying next to the Guinean about a foot away and it looked like he too had had his throat cut. Both men were bleeding all over and looked like they had been beaten with clubs and stones. As I fled the area I saw seven or eight of the attackers milling around the area.
Several serious attacks against RDR demonstrators, civilians dressed in traditional Muslim dress, and those suspected of being northern Dioulas or foreigners were perpetrated by civilians from the Ébrié community of Anonkoua
A forty-two-year-old carpenter whose family name originated from Mali was brutally attacked on October 26, 2000, by a machete-wielding mob from Anonkoua. The lacerations and beating he received resulted in a below-the-knee amputation and near total loss of vision. From his hospital bed, he described what happened:58
Between 2:00-3:00 p.m. I was heading alone back home from work. I usually go back along the highway but because of the demonstrations I decided to walk through the residential neighborhood, `Village Ébrié.' I came upon a barricade where they asked for my ID. At first they let me through but after walking a few meters one of them whistled and then thirty or so of them surrounded me. I heard someone say, `this man is a Malian.' I even recognized three of them that I used to greet whenever I passed through here. They asked me for 1000 CFA [U.S.$1.40] I got out my money and gave them the 1000 but then they just grabbed all I had; about 45,000 CFA [$61.00] Then set upon me; they started beating me all over with machetes, sticks, rocks. They hit my leg several times with a machete and were beating my head. I was on the ground. I didn't know what was happening. I was alone and yelled but they continued and continued. Then I must have passed out. I was later told I'd been thrown into a gutter and picked up and taken to a clinic by two men who knew me.
One of the Ébrié youths from Anonkoua manning the barricades in October described how he believed they were acting in self-defense:
There had been problems since October 24, and by October 26 we in the neighborhood `Village Ébrié' decided to provide security for ourselves. On Thursday, October 26, at around 9:00 a.m. the RDR started marching from Anyama. I saw there were about 500 of them and they were armed with sticks, rocks, machetes...they were clamoring for new elections.
When the march arrived at Anonkoua, they started burning tires and we were frightened. The RDR marchers asked us what party we stood for, and if we weren't RDR we were attacked. Those people were like the Palestinians with their rocks. They attacked our people so then our people started running back to their houses. They got their shotguns and started shooting at the RDR.
I saw one wounded RDR who had a bullet in his chest. After this, we, the Ébrié, formed a checkpoint and started controlling everyone going by, asking for their ID cards. If you had a name that was from the north, a Dioula name, then you were brutalized. I saw one man dressed in a Muslim robe who was being beaten and attacked with a hammer.
Even the wounded were not immune from ethnic violence. A twenty-three-year-old youth, wounded by paramilitary gendarmes during clashes in Abobo on October 26, described from his hospital bed how he and his doctor were attacked by an FPI mob while on their way to hospital:59
I'd gone to buy bread when panic erupted. As I was hiding in an alley I saw a gendarme firing directly at me from about thirty meters away and I was hit.
On our way to the hospital, near the university, we were stopped by a mob of FPI and university student youths with white headbands and Gbagbo T-shirts. They were armed with iron bars, knives, rocks, and sticks. The others explained that I was wounded and that we were on our way to the hospital but they said, `we don't care, all we know is that you're all Dioulas.' They knew we were Dioulas, because at one point my friends were speaking in Dioula and they'd heard it. They dragged us out of the car and beat us; even me. Then they broke the windows of our car, and set it on fire with gas they had in containers. We begged them to let us go but they beat us, stole our watches and necklaces. The doctor took off running and then one of my friends put me over his shoulder and we ran away as well.
During the October 26 demonstrations, FPI supporters, civil servants, and people from ethnic groups backing Laurent Gbagbo were attacked by angry RDR mobs primarily within the RDR strongholds of Anyama and Abobo. RDR supporters in Anyama burned alive a civil servant, beat up FPI supporters, looted homes and ransacked a local market. In Abobo, small groups of RDR supporters ransacked neighborhoods looking for non-Dioulas, many of whom were seriously beaten, stoned, or cut with broken bottles. They forced their way into the houses of FPI and PDCI supporters demanding identification papers and looted many of their houses or properties. At least one woman was stripped naked, dragged out of her house by the hair, and severely beaten. Scores of non-Dioulas in the affected neighborhoods fled out of fear. In Yopougon, RDR mobs burned an evangelical church and threatened its pastor with death, allegedly in retaliation for an FPI attack against a mosque.
A resident of Anyama described how demonstrating RDR militants armed with sticks and rocks set up barricades, ransacked market stalls, and burned to death a civil servant after being stopped at a checkpoint:60
On Thursday [October 26,] I went out to buy my newspaper to read about the Gbagbo victory. In front of the kiosk, I saw RDR supporters blocking the road with tables they took from the street sellers. Around 7:30-8:00 a.m., a motorbike with two men managed to pass through the roadblock. They were colleagues; both of them are civil servants who work for the water and forest department. Nothing happened then.
About thirty minutes later, one man came back, after having dropped his colleague off, and by then the road was fully blocked and the situation really tense. The RDR crowd was agitated, they made signs that he had to turn round but he tried to go through anyway. Then the RDR people pulled him off the bike by his shirt and started beating him. Those of us watching became so afraid; we ran into our houses.
Another witness hiding in the upper floor of a nearby building described what happened next:61
On Thursday morning, I was in my office, on the top floor of the building, I could see that the RDR was marching through town and had put up a roadblock. There was a man who came by on his motorcycle and wanted to pass through. I could see that they were yelling at him. They pulled him off and beat him up. I think he had passed out when they poured the gasoline from his bike over him and set him on fire. He burned completely. We came to know he was a government employee. I know they pointed him out because he was a westerner and an FPI man.
In Abobo opposition party members from the PDCI and FPI described how RDR mobs searched for and targeted ethnic Betes. A twenty-two-year-old woman from Abobo described having her house broken into by an RDR mob who brutalized her family after seeing a picture of Gbagbo in the living room:62
On Thursday morning a crowd of RDR attacked our compound. They were carrying sticks and bottles and eventually kicked the door in. They screamed that they were Betes [Gbagbo's ethnic group] and asked for our ID papers. My brothers replied that that we didn't even vote, and that we were Baoules and not Betes. The intruders shouted that we were all the same, that we were the ones who were happy when Gbagbo won the elections. Then one of them saw a picture of Gbagbo in the living room and said that they didn't have to look further. They turned on me. I was holding my two-year-old son who they threw to the ground. Then another jumped on my back and I fell to the ground. Then one of them pulled my hair from behind and started tearing the clothes off my body, even my underwear.
They dragged me out of the house by my hair and said that they were going to kill us. Then my father came out with his rifle and fired in the air. The crowd dispersed after that. We live in an RDR neighborhood but had never had problems with Dioula or RDR people before. That night we left and spent the night at the gendarme base.
11 "Ivory Coast," in U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000 (Washington, D.C, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, February 2001).
12 Television footage of Press Conference with Gbagbo,,Reuters, October 24, 2000.
13 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 6, 2000.
14 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, December 15, 2000.
15 Human Rights Watch interviews with twelve victims and witnesses, Abidjan, November 4 -19, 2001.
16 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 9, 2000.
17 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 9, 2000.
18 Douglas Farah. "Violence Greets Ivory Coast Leader," Washington Post, October 27, 2000.
19 "Ethnic, Political Battles Erupt in Abidjan," Associated Press, October 26, 2000.
20 "Gbagbo's Address to the Ivorian Nation," www.bbc.co.uk, October 25, 2000.
21 "Ouattara Takes Refuge After Attack on Abidjan Home," Reuters, October 26, 2000.
22 "Gbagbo to Form Ivorian Government Without Ouattara," Reuters, October 27, 2000.
23 Norimitsu Onishi, "Dictator Gone, Ivory Coast Splits Into Ethnic and Political Violence," New York Times, October 27, 2000.
24 "Ethnic Wounds Hard to Heal in Ivory Coast," Reuters, November 7, 2000. The total number of deaths countrywide for post-presidential election violence was estimated by the government to be some 170. This may be an underestimate. In an interview with the Ivorian Red Cross on November 16, 2000, Human Rights Watch was told seventeen people were known to have died during post-election clashes in several towns outside of Abidjan (seven in Daloa, three in San Pedro, four in Divo, and three in Bouake.)
25 " Ivory Coast Calls for Inquiry," Associated Press, October 30, 2000.
26 "Ivory Coast people sweep Gbagbo to power, 60 dead," Reuters, October 25, 2000.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Ivorian Red Cross Official, Abidjan, November 16, 2001.
28 The gendarme camps (escadrons) of Abobo, Koumassi, and Yopougon are colloquially known as "Camp Commandos."
29 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2000.
31 In the Ivorian Gendarmerie, the ranks distinguished by V's are those of non-commissioned officers; one V designates a corporal, two Vs a sergeant, three Vs a staff sergeant. One and two bars are the symbols of junior rank officer, with one bar for a second lieutenant and two bars for a first lieutenant. Three bars distinguish a captain and four bars a major.
32 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 13,2000.
33 Human Rights Watch interviews with hospital and clinic workers, Abidjan, November 5, 7, and 14, 2000.
34 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2000.
35 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 19, 2000.
36 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 15, 2000.
37 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 4, 2000.
38 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 6, 2000.
39 A "compound" is a collection of rooms or small dwellings, often behind one wall, which houses members of an extended family or several families and which share cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.
40 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 15, 2000.
41 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, April 25, 2001.
42 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 6, 2000.
43 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 18, 2000.
44 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 18, 2000.
45 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, February 11, 2001.
46 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 11, 2000.
47 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 19, 2000.
48 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 17, 2000.
49 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 18, 2000.
50 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2000.
51 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2000.
52 Norimitsu Onishi, "Dictator Gone, Ivory Coast Splits Into Ethnic and Political Violence," New York Times, October 26, 2000.
53 "Gbagbo to Form Ivorian Government Without Ouattara," Reuters, October 27, 2000.
54 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 10, 2000.
55 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 10, 2000.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with Ivorian Red Cross official, Abidjan, November 16, 2001.
57 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, December 8, 2000.
58 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 12 and 18, 2000.
59 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 12, 2000.
60 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 11, 2000.
61 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 11, 2000.
62 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 13, 2000.