Human Rights Watch Warns Against Violations in Ivory Coast Fighting

Published on Saturday 2nd April 2011

Fighters backing Ivory Coast's internationally-recognized president are battling  soldiers still loyal to the incumbent president who is refusing to step down. As fighting for control of the commercial capital continues, Human Rights Watch wants both sides to respect the rights of civilians.In the third day of fighting for control of Abidjan, troops loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo used state-run television to call for reinforcements in their battle against forces backing internationally-recognized president Alassane Ouattara.Gbagbo's Defense and Security Forces called on all members of the armed forces to join what he says are five units still fighting in Abidjan. Many of those troops have already defected to Ouattara's side.  Gbagbo's army chief of staff took his wife and children to seek refuge in the home of the South African ambassador.While pro-Ouattara fighters met little resistance in taking the political capital Yamoussoukro and the port of San Pedro, Mr. Gbagbo clearly has far-more-determined defenders in Abidjan.   As the fight breaks down into neighborhood-by-neighborhood combat, Human Rights Watch is calling on both sides to protect the rights of civilians.Corinne Dufka, who head of Human Rights Watch West Africa office, says, "The potential for reprisals is quite high, so we are asking that Mr. Ouattara's coalition of forces respect international humanitarian law, ensure that any prisoners that are taken are not summarily executed that they are put in a proper detention facility, and that there are no reprisal killing against civilians who they believe or who did support Laurent Gbagbo."Dufka says ensuring overall discipline may be complicated by the amalgam of fighters coalescing behind Ouattara."The military forces fighting with Alassane Ouattara are made up of a loose coalition that includes Force Nouvelle rebels who were formerly based in the north," she said. "They include police, gendarmes, and soldiers who have recently defected from Gbagbo's side over to Ouattara's side. And they include as well neighborhood-based civil defense forces which have sprung up over the last couple months. So we are asking that he take proactive measures to ensure that those forces are disciplined, to make sure they have the proper directives to respect international humanitarian law and human rights."Dufka says pro-Gbagbo forces must also respect those rights."Yesterday we documented a number of cases in two neighborhoods in which Gbagbo's military were firing out at the civilian population. That is in Treichville and near the airport in the Port-Bouet neighborhood," she said. "In Treichville, that is the base of the Republican Guard, they were firing into the population probably to prevent an advance by Ouattara's forces. The same thing in Port-Bouet. That kind of reckless fire and firing out into the population must be avoided. If there is to be fighting, it needs to be between armed men from one side and armed men from the other side."The West African regional alliance, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States are all calling on Gbagbo to step down immediately so Ouattara can take charge. Gbagbo's military says they are defending Ivorian sovereignty against what they say are mercenaries being backed by U.N. peacekeepers.


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