UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Thursday that human rights violations against civilians in Côte d'Ivoire are escalating at both the individual and collective levels, citing daily killings in the past week.
According to investigations conducted by UN human rights officers in the country, at least 392 people have been killed in Côte d'Ivoire since mid-December, including at least 27 in just the past week.
“Overall, the situation appears to be deteriorating alarmingly, with a sharp increase in inter-communal and inter-ethnic confrontations,” Pillay said.
“Human rights abuses, including rapes, abductions and killings are being committed by people supporting both sides,” she added.
Citing the killing of seven women by security forces supporting Laurent Gbagbo last week at a peaceful demonstration in Abobo, the High Commissioner said video footage of the slayings was shocking and could be used to prosecute the individuals responsible. The women were demonstrating in support of the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara.
Yesterday, a further four people were killed in clashes between the Forces de Défense et de Sécurité (FDS), loyal to Gbagbo, and the “Invisible Commando”, a previously unknown group which appears to be opposing pro-Gbagbo forces, after a peaceful demonstration to mourn and pay tribute to the seven women killed last week.
“Such apparent systematic inhuman acts and persecution are clearly impermissible under international law,” Pillay warned. "Those responsible should bear in mind that they may be held individually criminally responsible.”
Families of high-profile individuals known to be politically active have been targeted, and media organizations seen as pro-Ouattara have been threatened. The residences of members appointed to the Ouattara Government have also been the targets of looting and ransacking.
Pillay condemned the reported use of civilians as human shields by the Invisible Commando. This new group is said to be actively preventing civilians from leaving Abobo and other tense areas of Abidjan.
“I strongly urge all sides to respect the rights of civilians,” Pillay said. “Particularly worrying is the constant incitement to violence by influential leaders, most notably Blé Goude, who appear to be deliberately stimulating attacks against political opponents, other ethnic groups, nationals from other West African countries, as well as against the UN staff and operations working in Côte d'Ivoire.”
The High Commissioner said the ability of the people of Côte d'Ivoire to enjoy basic economic, social and cultural rights is being “drastically undermined on an ever-increasing scale.” Such rights include the rights to health, education, and employment as well as fundamental life-supporting services such as water, electricity and food. She cited the cutting of electricity and water supplies to the north of the country, as well as other regions perceived to be supporting President Ouattara, last week. The services have been restored, but at least one person, scheduled to undergo surgery at a hospital, died as a result of the power cut.
The High Commissioner reminded all parties of their responsibility to protect all populations in Côte d'Ivoire, irrespective of ethnicity, nationality or religion.
“There is a risk of resurgence of the civil war in the country,” Pillay said. “I urge all parties to show utmost restraint to prevent it, and to resolve their differences peacefully.”