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Letter to South Africa President Jacob Zuma on Situation in Côte d’Ivoire

Dear President Zuma,

We write to you out of deep concern for what is happening in Côte d'Ivoire. Human Rights Watch's most recent research, as demonstrated in the enclosed press release and mini-report, attests to the very tense situation there and the potential for large-scale conflict to erupt.

As a member of the African Union's delegation, you have a crucial role to play in helping to resolve this political crisis. Most urgently, we ask you to call on incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to urge his forces to cease immediately armed attacks against peaceful demonstrators as well as real and perceived supporters of his rival, Alassane Ouattara.

Human Rights Watch has documented the killing by Gbagbo's security forces of at least 11 people since February 19, including demonstrators and passers-by, as well as the abduction and killing of wounded people taken from an Abidjan hospital, and intimidation, harassment, and abuse by armed militiamen. Killings of Gbabgo's forces in pro-Ouattara neighborhoods also have been reported in recent days. At the same time, both parties continue to recruit new members to their forces, further creating the potential for conflict.

This work supplements a January investigation by Human Rights Watch into violations in the commercial capital, Abidjan, that revealed an often-organized campaign of violence by Gbagbo's security forces targeting members of Ouattara's political coalition, ethnic groups from northern Côte d'Ivoire, Muslims, and immigrants from neighboring West African countries. Human Rights Watch has likewise documented abuses committed by the Forces Nouvelles and pro-Ouattara militants, but it is clear that the post-election period has been dominated by grave abuses committed by forces loyal to Gbagbo, as he clings to power.

Human Rights Watch does not take a position on the outcome of the election. However, you will be aware of the international consensus that the vote was free and fair and that Ouattara won a majority of votes. The African Union and ECOWAS, the two leading African voices on the situation, have since December called for Gbagbo to cease the bloodshed and step down. We hope that South Africa will closely examine the human costs of the current crisis and the grave abuses being committed by Gbagbo's forces in defiance of the African community's near-unity on the issue. We also know from our close monitoring of events on the ground that the situation is likely to escalate into larger-scale hostilities should a feasible resolution not be found soon. We thus urge you, as a member of the distinguished Panel, to recommend a solution that takes note of the post-election human rights abuses and makes clear that future abuses by either side will not be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account. Only a resolution rooted in these issues will permit Côte d'Ivoire to emerge from years of civil war and crisis, rather than remain mired in a system borne of impunity.

We would be pleased to brief you personally on our findings and hope that you found your mission to be both safe and productive.


Siphokazi Mthathi
Director, South Africa office

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