Eddie and Sue Arthur

Ivory Coast: Crimes Against Humanity

Human Rights Watch have published a report cataloguing the violence which is taking place in Ivory Coast at the moment. They conclude that Laurent Gbagbo, the man currently holding on to the presidential office, and his supporters are guilty of crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch believes that Gbagbo and several of his close allies are now implicated in crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC). The role of Blé Goudé and RTI demonstrates a government policy of encouraging violence, further supported by the refusal of Gbagbo and his military leaders to stop or denounce the recurrent abuses by security forces under their control. The targeted killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated rapes, and persecution of West African nationals over a three-month period demonstrate a policy of systematic violence by security forces under the control of Gbagbo and militias long loyal to him.

With the deaths of almost 400 civilians documented by the UN – the vast majority killed by pro-Gbagbo forces in circumstances not connected with the armed conflict and with no apparent provocation – the attacks appear to be widespread. Either the widespread nature of attacks or the systematic element is sufficient to trigger the characterization as crimes against humanity when combined with the nature of the crimes documented by Human Rights Watch and others and the fact the crimes appear to be the outcome of deliberate policy of the authorities, amounting to an “attack on a civilian population.”

However, the supporters of Alassane Ouattara, do not escape censure, either.

The killing of civilians by pro-Ouattara forces, at times with apparent ethnic or political motivation, also risks becoming crimes against humanity should they become widespread or systematic.

At a time when the world’s attention is drawn, understandably, to events in Japan and Libya, we must not forget that urgent action is called for in Ivory Coast, too.

“The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies directly implicated in the grave abuses of the post-election period,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The international community should also send a clear message to Ouattara’s camp that reprisal killings will place them next on the list.”

The photograph is of the main hall of the secondary school that David used to attend, damaged in the first outbreak of civil war in Ivory Coast.

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