<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

II. Background

On September 19, 2002, rebels from the Patriotic Movement of Côte d’Ivoire (Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire, MPCI) attacked strategic targets in Abidjan, the country’s commercial and de facto capital, and the northern towns of Bouaké and Korhogo.  Although they did not succeed in taking Abidjan, the MPCI, with the help of two other rebel groups—the Movement for Justice and Peace (Mouvement Pour la Justice et la Paix, MJP) and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West (Mouvement Populaire Ivoirien du Grand Ouest, MPIGO)—eventually managed to occupy and control half of Ivorian territory. The three groups later formed a political-military alliance called the New Forces (Forces Nouvelles).5 

The rebel leaders’ stated aims were the end of ethnic discrimination against northerners and the removal of President Laurent Gbagbo, whose presidency was viewed as illegitimate given the flawed elections in 2000, in which fourteen of nineteen presidential candidates had been excluded. The rebellion was also viewed by some as the manifestation of a widespread feeling among northerners that since at least 1990 they had been consistently excluded from political power on the basis of ethnicity and identity.6

With Côte d’Ivoire effectively divided in two, efforts to resolve the conflict between the government and the New Forces have rested on a string of unfulfilled peace agreements (the Linas-Marcoussis, Accra III and Pretoria agreements).7 Although these agreements have brought about and so far maintained a cessation of civil war, they have not brought peace or unity to the country. The failure of the parties to fully implement the last of the three agreements, Pretoria, led the government in September 2005 to cancel elections scheduled for October 2005.

To avert a constitutional crisis arising from the expiry of President Gbagbo’s mandate on October 30, 2005, the African Union (A.U.) issued a communiqué on October 6, 2005, reaffirming that the Linas-Marcoussis, Accra III, and Pretoria agreements were the “appropriate framework” for resolving the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. The A.U. called for a one-year extension of Gbagbo’s term as head of state; the creation of a new power-sharing government and appointment of a new prime minister who would have “full authority” over the cabinet; and the continuation of efforts to implement the provisions called for under the previous agreements.8 The plan set out in the communiqué also mandated the creation of an International Working Group (IWG)—consisting of officials from individual African countries as well as from the A.U. and the West African regional grouping ECOWAS, as well as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank—to monitor implementation of the plan through monthly meetings. The U.N. Security Council formally endorsed the plan on October 21, 2005, in Resolution 1633, and called for a credible election to be held no later than October 31, 2006.9

On December 4, 2006, Charles Konan Banny, the governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), was appointed prime minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1633, which called for the selection of a prime minister “acceptable to all.”10 

Prime Minister Banny’s first months in office were tumultuous, characterized by civil and political unrest. On January 2, 2006, political tensions spiked when unidentified assailants attacked one of the main Ivorian military bases in the Abidjan area, and again just over two weeks later when United Nations bases and the premises of humanitarian organizations came under attack after a controversial IWG communiqué appeared to call the continuation of the sitting parliament into question. Human rights violations in the context of these events are described below.

Since the January events and their aftermath, there have been signs of a political détente, including increased contact and dialogue between key Ivorian political and military leaders. After originally refusing to come to Abidjan due to security concerns, New Forces leader Guillaume Soro, who was appointed by Prime Minister Banny to be the minister of reconstruction, is now participating in ministerial meetings in Abidjan. Opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara returned to Côte d’Ivoire after more than three years in exile to begin campaigning for the presidential elections. The Independent Electoral Commission, which had been hamstrung for months due to a dispute about its composition, has finally been constituted based on a compromise reached between major political parties.11 

Despite these encouraging developments, which have surpassed previous progress towards a political settlement, concrete measures required for elections, such as disarmament, the issuing of appropriate identity documents to Ivorian nationals who have hitherto been denied identity documents, and the registration of those eligible to vote, have yet to take place.12  Few, if any, of the problems at the heart of the Ivorian conflict—such as the eligibility for citizenship of millions of immigrant residents and competition for land resources between “indigenous” and immigrant communities in the volatile western region—have been resolved.13

[5] See Human Rights Watch, “Trapped Between Two Wars.”

[6] bid.

[7] Linas-Marcoussis was brokered by the French government in January 2003, Accra III was brokered by West African countries and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in July 2004, and the Pretoria Agreement was brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African Union and signed in South Africa on April 6, 2005.

[8] See African Union Peace and Security Council, “Communiqué of the 40th Meeting of the Peace and Security Council,” PSC/AHG/Comm (XL), October 6, 2006.

[9] U.N. Security Council Resolution 1633, 2005, S/RES/1633 (2005).

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Côte d’Ivoire: In groundbreaking talks, faction leaders recommit to peace,” IRIN, March 1, 2006.

[12] It is estimated that three million Ivorians do not have nationality documents or voting cards,  see “Côte d’Ivoire: Key pre-electoral identification process delayed,” IRIN, March 31, 2006, [online]  This issue has come to be seen by many as the raison d’être of the rebellion, according to New Forces officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Abidjan and Bouaké in March 2006.  The sequencing of disarmament and identification in the lead up to elections has been a continuing stumbling block in peace negotiations, see “Côte d’Ivoire: Storms still brewing over disarmament,” IRIN, April 28, 2006, [online]

[13] Côte d’Ivoire was one of the most stable and prosperous countries in West Africa for thirty years after independence from France in 1960. Due in part to the open-door immigration policies of president Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled Côte d’Ivoire from 1960 until his death in 1993, Côte d’Ivoire has been the main recipient country for immigrants from all over the region, with the population of Burkinabe, Malians, Guineans and other immigrants from West Africa estimated to be as high as one-quarter of the population.  During Houphouët-Boigny’s era, there were no legal obstacles to immigrant use of land: his oft-cited policy was that “the land belongs to those who give it value.” The presence of land-owning immigrants in western Côte d’Ivoire has become a source of great intercommunal friction and has led to claims that indigenous Ivorians should reclaim the land from the immigrant population.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>May 2006