A new report released by Human Rights Watch on Monday accused Ivory Coast's army of carrying out mass arrests and beatings on perceived supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo in response to last year's post-election violence.
Hundreds of civilians suspected of backing Ivory Coast’s former president have been swept up in mass arrests and abused by the army, dealing a major setback to efforts to heal divisions after a decade of crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Years of political deadlock in Ivory Coast ended in a brief post-election civil war last year, caused by former president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his defeat at the polls.
Gbagbo is now in The Hague charged with crimes against humanity.
But a wave of raids on security installations, beginning in August and blamed on his exiled supporters, has revived the spectre of violence and provoked a heavy-handed response from the army.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 on Monday, President of Human Rights Watch in Paris Jean-Marie Fardeau described the abuses carried out at the hands of the military against those believed to be supporters of Gbagbo.
“Hundreds of young people were arrested illegally without any arrest warrant and brought to army detention centres. Once there, they were mistreated and sometimes tortured,” Fardeau said.
According to the report, detainees were often beaten, robbed, held in overcrowded cells in illegal detention facilities, given little to eat or drink, and deprived of contact with their families, the report said.
“There’s no overseeing by any independent body of what the army is doing in Ivory Coast. Many of those arrested remain in prison and we are worried about their fate and we want to be sure they are not being tortured,” Fardeau told FRANCE 24.
Human Rights Watch said the mass arrests were fuelling ethnic tension in the country.
One civilian victim of abuse interviewed by the rights group said he had not been involved in the war or the recent violence. He said he did not know what he would do now if asked to take up arms and fight against the army.
“When people have been stripped of everything, when all we are left with is hatred ... we’re a long way from reconciliation,” he said.
The government of President Alassane Ouattara has promised to investigate and prosecute anyone responsible for such abuses, but rejected the accusation by Human Rights Watch of mass arrests.
“It was on the basis of a body of evidence and often after denunciation that these people were arrested as part of an investigation,” Gnenema Coulibaly, Ivory Coast’s minister of human rights, said in a written response to the report.
Human Rights Watch says it is Ouattara’s responsibility to make sure the army does not act outside the law.
“Detaining people is not the role of the army, it is the job of the police. We want the rule of law to be respected in Ivory Coast,” said Fardeau, who is pushing for an independent body to visit Ivory Coast as soon as possible.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-11-19