Since the end of February, 2011, violence in the Ivory Coast has escalated, with increasing clashes between pro Gbagbo forces and pro Ouattara forces, leaving innocent civilians to face the bloody consequences in the midst of the crisis. The violence has been particularly concentrated in the western and central regions of the country and also the Abidjan, which is the financial capital.
The tension has arisen out of the disputed Presidential election, where a national election in November 2010, yielded a close result between Laurent Gbagbo and his challenger Alassane Ouattara, who with 54.1% of the vote was declared the winner, a result which has been supported by the African Union and the UN. Despite this, within a day the Constitutional Council led by a Gbagbo ally, claimed the result invalid amidst reports that votes in certain regions had been rigged by rebels. Gbagbo, who has been President for over 10 years, with stale fantasies of recreating the Ivoirian dream under his leadership, still refuses to step down. Instead, as he continues to censure the election results, his Ivoirian dream becomes ever more disfigured into a blood stained nightmare.
The political tension has reignited the problems that were at the forefront of the civil war, quashing hopes of the end of civil unrest, which the area had long been suffering. Human Rights Watch, after documenting the abuse suffered, has reported that at times, there have been motivations based on ethnicity as well as political issues. Still the deaths have been unaccounted for and the violence becomes more widespread, leading to unspeakable crimes against the people in the Ivory Coast. In the past week, 18 people have been killed in the clashes in Abidjan, with 12 killed when a market was shelled in a stronghold of Alassane Ouattara. This then brought the total number of deaths since mid-December up to 410 people, as reported by the UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI).
The organised abuse of innocent people undoubtedly constitutes to being war crimes, which all need to be individually investigated. Human Rights Watch has reports of an organised stream of Gbagbo’s security forces, including killings, forced disappearances, politically motivated rape and excessive use of force against peaceful protestors. Since mid- February, there have been cases of real and perceived Ouattara supporters being burned alive, executed at point blank range and gang raped. Pro Ouattara supporters have also committed horrific acts, including an attack on a village near Abobo on March 7th, which left 9 civilians dead, in what was apparently a collective punishment against Gbagbo supporters. The spokesman for the UNOCI had also spoke of the intense trauma caused to children who had been “attacked physically, killed, maimed for life and often forced to leave their families and abandon school to escape the fighting.”
The constant political turmoil has led to many Ivoirians fleeing their country and become refugees of neighbouring countries and especially crossing the border into Liberia. It is estimated that around 400,000 people have been displaced as a result of the Ivory Coast turmoil, with 200,000 fleeing Abidjan alone. The town of Zodru in Liberia, a mile away from the Ivoirian border, is an area particularly saturated with refugees, its population having grown from 500 to 2,000 with the addition of the refugees.
Hundreds of Ivoirian’s have also started to arrive in Ghana and thousands now in Guinea. Having had to have left their homes, the majority of their belongings, businesses, land and cattle, they are keen to still stay close to the Ivory Coast and so have set up shelter near the border by the edge of the forest region in Guinea. However, as with any crisis involving displacement of people, and especially in Guinea, it is proving hard for the infrastructure to cope with the influx of people.
Another concern has been the evacuation of migrants, as all ‘foreigners’ have been targeted to be systematically abused and killed under the order of Gbagbo Youth Minister, Charles Blé Goudé, after his public call to set up check points to ‘’denounce all foreigners’’ last month. West African nationals have described daily attacks by pro Gbagbo security forces and militia, who have and continue to, destroy homes, businesses, burn mosques and beat their victims and douse them in gas to be burned alive.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been involved in helping the Mauritian Government evacuate over 400 Mauritians who have been living and working in the Ivory Coast, with 1,800 already evacuated by bus. It is estimated that over 40,000 Mauritians live in the Ivory Coast and around 10,000 of them living in Abidjan. Security risks continue to be a great challenge in evacuating civilians, as even humanitarian agencies havebeen targeted and attacked. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, so far through various agencies has reached out to help around 10,000 people in Abidjan, to deliver aid. However, other areas like Abobo and Anyama have been increasingly arduous.
For the civilians left in the Ivory Coast, hearing gunfire and shells explode as they wake in the morning is not uncommon. The EU’s emergency aid commissioner on Thursday urged the world not to overlook these humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast which “actually exceeds” that in Libya and had put the nation “on the brink of civil war”. The targeted killing of civilians and destruction of their property based on their political allegiance or ethnicity is growing to be apparent in being systematic and widespread, alluding to a more intense period of civil unrest to follow. The political unrest cannot justify such consequences for human life and should not even try. Armed combatants from both pro Gbagbo and pro Ouattara sides have committed undeniable war crimes and all need to held responsible.
International governments have commenced an intervention in Libya, where gross acts against humanity are also being committed, under Gaddafi and his security forces. Whether that kind of international intervention is correct is another issue, but what of the Ivory Coast and it’s people? How high does the death toll and people displaced need to be to receive equal media coverage and worldwide attention? Though reports of the violations have been made, the time is greatly overdue for the UN to step in and take direct action to put a stop to both the pro Ouattara and pro Gbagbo fighters.
Images from Time.com