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Briefing on Côte d’Ivoire to the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights

Objective 

The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution on Côte d'Ivoire condemning violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by government security forces, government-backed militia and the Forces Nouvelles during and following the formal end of the country's internal conflict.

The Commission should call on both sides to immediately end abuses against civilians in areas they control and to cooperate in the full implementation of the Linas-Marcoussis peace accords. The resolution should specifically support the establishment of an international commission of inquiry, as specified in the accords, to investigate and document violations of international humanitarian law that occurred since September 2002. 

Background 

The internal conflict that broke out in Côte d'Ivoire in September 2002 officially ended in July 2003, yet the country has made only limited progress towards peace and reconciliation. The Linas-Marcoussis peace accords signed in France in January 2003 were floundering by year's end, and threats by both sides provoked fears of a fresh outbreak of violence. The north and most of the west of the country remained under the control of the three former rebel groups, called the Forces Nouvelles, while the government retained control of the south. Over 4,000 French and 1,300 West African peacekeepers monitored the ceasefire line. Despite the inclusion of both sides in the new government of reconciliation, representatives of the Forces Nouvelles withdrew in September 2003 citing, among other reasons, President Gbagbo's lack of good faith in implementing the peace agreement. However, the Forces Nouvelles returned to the government in early 2004 after substantial international pressure. 

Despite the official end of hostilities, civilians continue to suffer abuses on both sides of the ceasefire line. Many displaced civilians, who numbered close to a million as a result of the nine-month conflict, remain unable to return to their homes. Ivorian society remains deeply polarised by years of political manipulation of ethnicity, inter-communal strife and impunity of state security forces. Local press continues to exacerbate tensions through unbalanced and sometimes provocative reporting. 

Impunity of state security forces. Ivorian police, gendarmes and military have committed serious human rights violations-including torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and summary executions-since the military coup in 1999 and widespread election-related violence in 2000. Victims of these abuses have consistently been northern Ivorians, generally supporters or perceived supporters of the Rally of Republicans (Rassemblement de Républicains, RDR) opposition party, and West African immigrants. Throughout the months of open conflict in 2002-2003, hundreds of civilians perceived to be supporting the northern-based rebel movement and the RDR were harassed, assaulted, arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured and often executed on the basis of their real or imputed ethnic, religious, and national affiliation. Ivorian police, paramilitary and armed forces were also responsible for brutal security operations in Abidjan, Daloa, Man and Monoko-Zohi that resulted in several massacres of civilians. To date, there have been no national or international investigations into these abuses, nor have any individuals been charged for any of these crimes. 

Proliferation and impunity of civilian militias. Civilian militia groups linked to political parties have played an increasingly prominent role in perpetrating abuses against civilians in government-held areas. Since 2000, youth groups linked to the ruling Popular Ivorian Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI) party of President Gbagbo have assaulted, raped and killed political opposition members with impunity, often with the collaboration of members of the state security forces. During the conflict in 2002-2003, the Ivorian government's policy of encouraging civilians to form self-defence committees and participate in security tasks contributed to the growth and impunity of pro-government militia groups in Abidjan and the rural areas. In western Côte d'Ivoire, both government and rebel-supported militias on both sides participated in reprisal attacks based on ethnicity. Despite the presence of over 5,000 peacekeepers, militia groups on both sides continue to commit abuses against civilians with near-total impunity. 

Abuses by the Forces Nouvelles. Members of the former rebel groups were responsible for numerous attacks on government officials, members of the FPI, and perceived government supporters during the conflict. In the west of the country, civilians also suffered numerous serious abuses at the hands of the rebel movement and its Liberian mercenaries, including summary executions, torture, rape, and looting of civilian property. Since the end of the conflict, there have been continuing accounts of armed robbery, looting and rape in areas controlled by the Forces Nouvelles. 

Inter-communal conflict over land. Longstanding tensions over access to and ownership of land were exacerbated by political rhetoric and increased xenophobia during the conflict in 2002-2003. Indigenous Ivorians, backed up by government rhetoric and in some cases by pro-government militias or by government security forces, forced thousands of West African immigrant farmers, a majority of whom are from Burkina Faso, from the lands they farmed in the west and south-west of the country. Few if any of those responsible for this violence were brought to justice and there has been no compensation for lost land assets. These acts also provoked reprisals in some areas. The land ownership law is among the package of legal reforms reviewed by the government of reconciliation but remains a source of considerable violence in the west. 

Recommendations 

The Commission on Human Rights should:

  • Condemn all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place in Côte d'Ivoire during and since the internal conflict.
  • Call on the government of reconciliation to end all ongoing abuses, including those committed by militias associated with the former warring parties.
  • Urge all members of the government of reconciliation to immediately implement the Linas-Marcoussis peace accords, particularly the provisions relating to legal reforms, the establishment of the national human rights commission and an international commission of inquiry into abuses since September 2002.
  • Call on the human rights unit of the U.N. Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (MINUCI) to actively investigate ongoing abuses and publicly report on their findings in line with their mandate.

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