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III. Recent Violence by Government and Pro-government Forces against Perceived Opponents

January 2006 Riots and Associated Violence and Abuse

There were two episodes of political tension spilling over into violence during January 2006.  In both of these episodes, members of the Malian and Burkinabe communities and Ivorians originating from northern rebel-held regions of the country appear to have been singled out for abuse by law enforcement agents such as the police, gendarmes and members of the Security Operations Command Center (Centre de Commandement des Opérations de Sécurité, CECOS) an elite, rapid reaction force created by Presidential Decree in July 2005 and tasked with fighting crime in Abidjan.14 

Attack on Akouédo Military Base Triggers Violence and Abuses across Abidjan

On January 2, 2006, unidentified assailants attacked one of the main military bases in the Abidjan region, called Camp Akouédo. The attack appeared to originate from within the military camp itself.  While there has to date been no official report on the identity of the assailants or the motivation for the attack, some political observers believe that it was planned by a group of government troops as an act of protest against non-payment of wages.15

Whatever the motivation behind the attack, government security forces, including gendarmes and members of CECOS, responded by committing numerous serious abuses across Abidjan, primarily against West African immigrants and northern Ivorians. According to interviews with victims, witnesses, local human rights groups, and U.N. officials, these abuses included arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture and summary execution. 

One alleged case of extrajudicial execution was reported by officials from a local human rights group and residents from M’Badon village near Akouédo. They told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of January 6, 2006, three men from Burkina Faso who worked as garbage collectors in the area were surrounded by youths from the local community and accused of taking part in the Akouédo attack. The youths summoned the security forces, who allegedly summarily executed the three men with guns.16 Those interviewed by Human Rights Watch had not witnessed the alleged executions, but one of the residents showed researchers photographs of the three dead men which he claimed to have taken shortly after the incident.

Report of torture at the École de le Gendarmerie

Among interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch concerning abuses in the wake of the Akouédo attack, HRW researchers spoke to two Burkinabe manual laborers who were subjected to three days of beating and torture in the Gendarmerie Training Center (École de la Gendarmerie) and several more days of detention before finally being released without explanation as to why they had been detained.17 The two described seeing at least sixty-four others—Malians, Burkinabe and some Ivorians—who had been similarly detained within the École de la Gendarmerie. Both of the victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch had dozens of large, recent scars over the length of their backs.  One of them explained his ordeal as follows:

On January 3, around 1 p.m., I heard gunshots in the courtyard outside my house. By this time a couple of Burkinabe friends had come over, so there were seven of us inside the house. We heard yelling outside and a voice said, “If you don’t open, we’ll break the door down,” so I opened the door.  A group of soldiers came in. They told us to close our eyes and for each of us to hold the belt of the other. They forced us to march like this. They were pushing us and saying that they were going to kill us. They were shouting that we were the guys who attacked the camp. They told us to get in the back of a truck. There were around thirty of us in the truck.  

We drove about thirty minutes, and then they pushed us out of the truck and into a room. Around 6 p.m., they came and told us to take off all our clothing and put it outside. Then they came later and took our names. We were sixty-six in that room. The next morning, they allowed people to put on underwear and pants. They came and took one group of prisoners out of the room, and then another.  I was taken out in the last group. They took us into a small room. When we arrived, the first two groups were already there. There were no soldiers in the room at first, but then ten or so came in. They started beating us with orange plastic pipes and cords.  They also struck us with the flat part of a machete. They were hitting me on my back.  I still have scars all over.  That group of soldiers left, and then another came in to beat us. This went on all day before they took us back to the first room where we slept. Later, they took us into the same room and beat us again. They put water on the wounds on our backs and it burned—I don’t know what was in the water. On the third day, the same thing happened. 

On the fourth day, I was taken to another camp. They didn’t hit us there anymore. Our parents were able to bring food. I spent six days there. During all this time, they never asked me anything. Only the Red Cross came and asked questions. The day the Red Cross came, we were freed. Eighteen others were freed the same day as me. Others had been freed earlier. I didn’t receive any explanation from the authorities regarding my release or capture. I haven’t filed a complaint because I am afraid of the consequences. If I had the money, I’d go back to Burkina Faso.18 

Anti-U.N. Attacks, and Associated Rioting and Sectarianism

A second spike in tension occurred in mid-January when pro-government militia groups, particularly the Young Patriots militia, attacked United Nations bases in Abidjan, Daloa, Guiglo and San Pedro.19 The violence started after the International Working Group issued a controversial communiqué noting that the mandate of the Ivorian National Assembly, due to expire on December 16, 2005, had not been extended.  This was interpreted by pro-government militias and other supporters of President Gbagbo as an unjustified attempt to push for the dissolution of the Assembly and undermine the ruling party.20

In Abidjan, thousands of Young Patriots militia took to the streets, throwing rocks and, in one instance, hurling firebombs at U.N. facilities, burning tires, taking control of the national television station, and attacking vehicles and premises of the U.N. and international humanitarian agencies.

In Guiglo, hundreds of protestors from the local chapters of the Young Patriots and the Ivorian Students Federation (Fédération Étudiantine et Scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire, FESCI—see also below), demonstrated in front of the ONUCI base.  Although the protests were initially peaceful, at approximately 4 a.m. on January 18 there was a confrontation between the demonstrators and the U.N. peacekeepers protecting the base. The confrontation resulted in the deaths of five protesters and the wounding of as many as thirty-nine others, including the local leader of the Young Patriots, Cyprien Maho, who was wounded by a bullet in the chin.21  

Questions remain as to whether the lethal response of the peacekeepers was proportionate and appropriate given the level of threat they allegedly faced. The U.N. has yet to make public the results of an investigation into the incident that might shed light on the circumstances leading to the incident. An eyewitness interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that prior to the shooting at least one individual managed to enter the camp and climb on top of one of the U.N. armored vehicles within the camp.22 There are also reports by individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch of persons dressed in what appeared to be military uniform being present in the crowd, and of stones and urine-filled plastic bags being thrown at the peacekeepers.23  All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that although three warning shots were fired into the air, peacekeepers did not make use of tear gas or other forms of non-lethal force prior to opening fire.24  Among the five dead, three were members of the Young Patriots and two, age fourteen and sixteen, were members of FESCI.25

In response to the shootings, the mayor of Guiglo issued a call through the Voice of Guiglo radio station “to all villagers to come into town to avenge the death of those struck down by the assassins’ bullets.”26  Moments later, Young Patriots leaders in Guiglo used the same radio station to incite violence against the U.N. and humanitarian organizations, calling on all Young Patriots to “attack everything having to do with humanitarian agencies, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and symbols of the United Nations.”  The same day, after U.N. and humanitarian personnel were forced to retreat from the region, their offices were burned, nearly two dozen cars were extensively damaged or completely burned, and property ranging from office equipment such as computers and electric generators to humanitarian food supplies (including nearly 700 tones of grain), was looted and pillaged, resulting in damages as high as U.S.$1.8 million.27 Ivorian security forces based in Guiglo did not attempt to stop or restrain the looting and destruction.28 

The peacekeepers remained absent from Guiglo and other locations in the volatile west of the country for several months, their return being initially complicated by conditions placed by local Ivorian officials and by the pro-government militias who maintain effective control over the area.29 However, improvements in the political climate resulted in the removal of these conditions, and in late April 2006 peacekeepers from Bangladesh and Benin successfully redeployed to Guiglo and to the towns of Duékoué, Toulepleu and Bloléquin.

In February, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent President Gbagbo a bill for damages arising from the destruction of U.N. property during the January incidents, estimated at U.S.$3.5 million.30 

Sectarian Attacks and Incitement in Abidjan and Guiglo

As the anti-U.N. riots brought Abidjan to a standstill, according to accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch, security forces were clearly turning a blind eye, if not condoning violent activities by militias.31 Witnesses and representatives from local human rights organizations, and reports by local and foreign journalists and ONUCI officials, describe Ivorian security forces as doing little to restrain the rioting and destruction of property, or to restore order.32 Security forces reportedly provided food and water to the Young Patriots militias and helped transport them to different locations around Abidjan.33  The Young Patriots set up hundreds of checkpoints, sometimes in the very locations where Ivorian security forces had maintained a checkpoint the day before.34  

In one incident during the riots, a member of the Malian community was burned to death by Young Patriots militia members. A witness told Human Rights Watch:

At around 7 a.m. I left my house to come to Abobo [a neighborhood of Abidjan], but on the way I saw the situation was very tense. I was told the Young Patriots had taken over the streets. I decided to return home but because taxis weren’t working I had to walk.

Between 8 and 9 a.m. I arrived at the place where the Patriots always have their meetings—they call it “the Parliament.” From about 120 meters I saw a big group of Patriots were blocking the road and had formed a circle around someone. Some of the Patriots had wrapped the Ivorian flag around their waist. It was tense and cars were turning around to get out of there. I was afraid and wanted to get off the main road so I hid in a small garage from where I could see what was going on at the checkpoint. 

A few minutes later I saw the youths throw a liquid onto the youth they’d circled and then I saw one of them throw something at him. Then I saw a big flame [shoot up]. As this happened the people around him suddenly backed up and I saw the flame was all over the man. He was fighting with the fire for many minutes but later he fell down. I later saw his charred body. Most of the burns were on the upper body.

Later I went into a little mosque and asked a woman what the man had done. She explained that the day before, the Patriots had stolen the man’s bicycle and that he’d returned that morning to demand they give it back. I didn’t know until later that he was a Malian.35

Businesses belonging to Ivorians of northern descent or to Malian or Burkinabe nationals also came under attack by the Young Patriots. A Malian doctor interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how on January 16, Young Patriots and militants from a pro-government student group attacked and beat him inside the small clinic he runs in Abobo. He said the youths, a few of whom were armed with automatic rifles, stole medicines and medical supplies worth some 500,000 CFAs (about U.S.$952).36  On January 19,Young Patriots in Abobo allegedly attacked a parking lot and burned some ten taxis and minibuses owned by West African immigrants and northern Ivorians.37

In Guiglo, the radio broadcast of the Young Patriot leaders inciting violence against the U.N. and humanitarian organizations, mentioned above, also included an appeal that “[H]e who you find in his house, burn him, whether he is Ivorian or not.  And all those who oppose what you are going to do, burn them.  We will take responsibility.”38 This message echoed an anonymous flyer that had circulated in January just prior to the riots.  Signed by “The Guide,” the flyer called on all Ivorians “to undertake violent action, terrorist action against those from countries that are members of the International Working Group (except South Africa), of ONUCI, and of France.  We must butcher them, burn them, cut their throats, eat them, violate and destroy all their goods.  This is the voice of the people.  This is your voice.  Nationalism is moving forward.”39

The absence of ONUCI and humanitarian organizations from in and around Guiglo following the events of mid-January was keenly felt by communities such as Burkinabe and Ivorians of northern descent.  One community leader who spoke to Human Rights Watch in March noted an increase in banditry since the departure.40  Members of the Burkinabe community, including those living within a camp of nearly four thousand near Guiglo, voiced acute concern that there was no longer anyone acting as a buffer between them and members of pro-government militias and youth groups, who have in the past been hostile to them.  A leader within the camp described his concern this way:

Since ONUCI withdrew we feel very insecure. The peacekeepers used to pass by the camp every day. Since they left about two months ago, members of the Ivorian army have only come by three times. If we weren’t being supported by the NGOs, they’d still be trying to chase us out even from here. But with the departure of the U.N., we know we can’t count on them now. The Young Patriots are the children of the same people who chased us off our land in the first place, so it’s the same people. If they can even run off people with guns like ONUCI, what will happen to us? It’s like we’re in a hole and we don’t know how long it will last…. We’re here like prisoners.41

Further report of torture at the École de le Gendarmerie

Human Rights Watch interviewed five Malians and Ivorians who were among seven detained by security forces in the aftermath of the anti-U.N. violence in Abidjan and were tortured at the École de la Gendarmerie; one of the seven was reportedly tortured to death. The reason for their arrest is not fully clear. U.N. sources reported that it may have been because supporters of the opposition party Rally of Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR), including at least one of the seven victims, had attempted to prevent the Young Patriots from setting up a checkpoint in their neighborhood, but those victims interviewed told Human Rights Watch that they did not understand why they had been detained.42 A few victims said the Gendarmes accused them of being “rebels” or of “recruiting rebels.” One victim, an Ivorian of northern origin, described to Human Rights Watch what happened to him:

On January 20, I was at home sleeping. I awoke when I head a knock at the door. They said it was the gendarmerie. Four soldiers came into my room and took me outside.  One was wearing a dark uniform. His hat had a sword emblem on it. He had a kalash [Kalashnikov assault rifle] and a bulletproof vest with a walkie-talkie strapped to his chest.  Everyone from the courtyard was crouching on the ground outside.  The soldiers were pointing their guns at us. They took some of us from the crowd and put us in vehicles parked outside marked CECOS 01 and 02.43 We drove for about twenty minutes. A soldier had his foot against my neck. I lifted by eyes and saw that we were going to the École de la Gendarmerie. 

When we arrived, they then told us to get out and a soldier struck each of us as we got down. There were seven of us in total. We were all told to sit down on the ground. They had a bucket with water in it and they were pouring it on us. It burned my eyes and nose. Then they started to beat us. They were swinging a belt and striking with the buckle.  Then they put us all in a small room and five solders came into the room to continue the beating. There was one old man, the father. They didn’t kick the old man. They put him aside. They took us out for another beating before throwing us back in the small room. The son of the old man had been badly beaten and said that he needed some water.  The old man knocked on the door to say that we needed water and to go to the bathroom. A solder yelled that we should just piss in his mouth. The son of the old man started turning and writhing in pain.  And then he went motionless. The old man said, “He is dead.” 

Around nine the next morning, they had us take the body out. A little while later they opened the door and told us to lie down in the back of a truck and told us not to lift our head. We were taken to what I would later learn to be the Brigade of Investigation.44 I was not doing well because I had been beaten so severely, so they then sent me to a military hospital soon after my arrival. At the hospital, I was told that even though it was a military hospital, I had to pay money for my treatment.  My brother came and paid a total of 30,000 CFAs [about U.S.$57]. After six days in the hospital, I was released and I went home. However, on Feb 13, I was called back to the Brigade of Investigation to answer questions. They wanted to know if I was part of the rebellion and I said I was not.45 A few days later, a gendarme came by the house on foot and told me not to be a witness. I never understood why this happened to me.

Attacks by a Pro-government Student Group, and Lack of Police Response

Throughout 2005, the Ivorian Students Federation (FESCI) engaged in frequent acts of harassment, intimidation, and on several occasions violence in Abidjan against those student and other groups they believe support the opposition or New Forces.46   FESCI is fiercely loyal to the Gbabgo government, and appears to operate without any fear of being held accountable for violent acts perpetrated against their perceived opponents.47

Members of a rival student union, the General Association of Students of Côte d’Ivoire (Association Generale des Élèves et Étudiants de Côte d’Ivoire, AGEECI), are particularly vulnerable to attack, as FESCI accuses them of supporting the New Forces.48  On several occasions in 2005, AGEECI members were violently assaulted and beaten by FESCI members.49  Many AGEECI members are no longer able to attend classes due to the harassment they experience.50  AGEECI members told Human Rights Watch that although they regularly report incidents of harassment and abuse to the police, so far no one has been prosecuted or punished for these crimes. The following account from a victim of a December 2005 incident is a recent example of the failure of local authorities to intervene to protect against FESCI-led violence:

I’m a second-year history student, but I am no longer able to follow courses. In December 2005, I was working with high school students at their school to create a committee of AGEECI. Around one [o’clock] that afternoon, a number of cars pulled up outside the school. There were five of us AGEECI members in the classroom at the time. Three went to see what the commotion was, and never came back. The next thing I knew, a group of FESCI members erupted into the classroom. They started to hit the two of us who were left with clubs and the blunt side of machetes. Then they put us in a taxi. Before we drove off, four policemen arrived in a truck. We thought they would intervene to save us, but FESCI told the police that we were rebels and assailants. The police said that if that’s the case, they should go ahead and kill us. The police left, and we drove off.  

As we were driving near the port, we were stopped at a checkpoint by two policemen. The people in the car identified themselves as FESCI members and then got out to talk with the police. They got back in the car and we drove through the checkpoint. We started driving towards an abandoned area. I was afraid that if that was where they were taking us, it meant death. They took us to a building and put me in a small room, where a group of them started to beat me with clubs and slingshots.  Then I passed out. When I woke up, they started asking whether I worked for the rebellion, for Ouattara, or for Soro.51 Then they said they were taking us to the beach to kill us by drowning. The beach wasn’t far and they marched us there, which started to attract attention. They threw us in the water. A lifeguard came and FESCI started to threaten him. A crowd began to gather and people started asking questions. Eventually the crowd got big enough that the FESCI members left. The lifeguard called an ambulance and they took us to the hospital.

Since then, I’ve been threatened so many times on my cell phone that I had to change the number. I had to go outside of Abidjan for a while to protect myself. If I try to file a complaint against a FESCI member, it won’t go anywhere. They’re the ones who brought the president to power. They can do what they want. It makes me feel bad that I can’t go to school anymore. Our parents are illiterate. They depend on the students they send to school.52 

[14] CECOS members are recruited from the army, police, and gendarmerie.  In interviews with Human Rights Watch, U.N. sources, journalists and local human rights monitors said that far from assuring security in Abidjan, CECOS is frequently implicated in crimes and is responsible for multiple human rights violations, especially in the so-called quartiers defavorisés (slums) or other areas heavily populated by supporters of the political opposition. 

[15] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Abidjan, March 5, 2006.

[16] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, March 6, 2006.

[17] Further allegations of torture at the École de la Gendarmerie were made to Human Rights Watch in relation to events in mid-January (see below): a taxi driver described being tortured (see also below), and local and international human rights monitors reported that this location has been the site of numerous recent reports of torture.  Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, March 2006.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 22, 2006.

[19] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. sources, Ivorian Government officials, and members of civil society, Abidjan and Guiglo, March 2006.  See also “Five dead in clashes with UN peacekeepers in ‘Wild West’,” IRIN, January 18, 2006, [online]

[20] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. sources, Abidjan, March 2, 2006.

[21] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. sources, elected officials in Guiglo, and Cyprien Maho, Abidjan and Guiglo, March 2006.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview, Guiglo, March 10, 2006.

[23] Human Rights Watch interviews, Guiglo, March 10, 2006.

[24]  Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. sources, elected officials, and participants in the demonstrations, Abidjan and Guiglo, March 2006.

[25]  Human Rights Watch interviews with Young Patriots leaders, elected officials, and participants in the demonstrations, Guiglo, March 2006.  An official report of the Crisis Committee of the Mayor’s Office in Guiglo puts the ages of the two FESCI members at fourteen and sixteen.  U.N. sources report their ages to be ten and eleven.  While Young Patriots members interviewed by Human Rights Watch maintained that their members have nothing to do with any of the several groups of armed militias active in and around Guiglo, a militia leader interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that two of the dead were members of a prominent local militia who, while unarmed, had been sent to the demonstration to help ensure security for the participants. Human Rights interview with militia leader, Guiglo, March 10, 2006.

[26] Transcript provided by U.N. sources.

[27] “Côte d’Ivoire: Anti-U.N. riots threaten continued assistance to refugees, displaced,” IRIN, January 23, 2006, [online]

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Ivorian government official, Guiglo, March 10, 2006.

[29] According to U.N. sources in March, militia leaders in Guiglo said that humanitarian organizations were welcome to return, but that ONUCI forces were only welcome to return in the event that they came to disarm the rebels.  Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 2, 2006.

[30] “Côte d’Ivoire: U.N. Blue Helmets Preparing to Return to West after January Riots,” IRIN, March 9, 2006, [online]

[31] Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. sources and local civil society organizations, Abidjan, March 2006.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 12, 2006.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 12, 2006.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 4, 2006.

[38] Transcript provided by U.N. sources.  While U.N. sources attribute this statement to the assistant secretary general of the Young Patriots in Guiglo, Clovis Tom Toubaté, a community leader interviewed by Human Rights Watch attributed the statement to the leader of the Young Patriots in Guiglo, Cyprien Maho.  Human Rights Watch interview with a local community leader, Guiglo, March 9, 2006. 

[39] Transcript provided by U.N. sources.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview, Guiglo, March 9, 2006.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview, Guiglo, March 10, 2006.

[42] Human Rights Watch interviews, Abidjan, March 2006. 

[43] CECOS commander Col. Georges Guiai Bi Point told Human Rights Watch that CECOS intervention vehicles are prominently numbered in order to help control abuses.  Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 22, 2006.

[44] The Brigade de Recherche is a service of the Gendarmerie charged with carrying out investigations and interrogations.  According to local human rights monitors, prisoners arrested on political grounds are often taken to the Brigade de Recherche for questioning.  Human Rights Watch interview by telephone, Washington and Abidjan, May 17, 2005.  

[45] Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 4, 2006.

[46] Human Rights Watch, “The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse.” 

[47] In the past, FESCI has been led by both Charles Blé Goudé, the current leader of the Young Patriots, and Guillaume Soro, now leader of the New Forces and, under Prime Minister Banny’s government, minister of reconstruction.

[48] “Côte d’Ivoire: University campus polarised by political violence,” IRIN, July 29, 2005, [online]

[49] Human Rights Watch, “The Human Rights Cost of the Political Impasse.”

[50] Human Rights Watch interviews with AGEECI members and human rights monitors, Abidjan, March 4, 2006.

[51]  Alassane Ouattara is a former prime minister and prominent leader of the RDR opposition party.  Guillaume Soro is head of the New Forces, and currently serves as minister of reconstruction.

[52]  Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, March 4, 2006.

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