Amnesty condemns 'climate of fear' preventing return of displaced Ivorians
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In a report published Thursday, Amnesty International condemned a "climate of fear" maintained by the Ivory Coast Republican Forces and pro-Ouattara militias that has prevented hundreds of thousands of displaced people from returning home.
The title of the most recent report published by Amnesty International on Ivory Coast – the fourth such report this year – is lifted from the testimony of one of the displaced Ivorians cited: “We want to go home, but we can’t”.
In the report, the NGO condemns serious human rights violations it says have been committed in the country since the arrest of former President Laurent Gbagbo last April. Those violations, according to Amnesty, are preventing people who fled the post-election violence from returning home.
“Under President Alassane Ouattara, an atmosphere of reprisals has taken hold”, the report reads. Amnesty carried out a two-week investigation in June in Abidjan, as well as other regions in the south and west of the African nation.
‘Climate of fear’
The organisation based its report on witness accounts of executions, arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, and mistreatment in order to denounce a “climate of fear” affecting more than a half million displaced Ivorians.
“In late April and early May 2011, crimes under international law were attributable to both parties to the conflict [pro-Gbagbo forces and the pro-Ouattara Ivory Coast Republican Forces, or FRCI],” the report states, before specifiying:
“From mid-May onwards, these crimes were overwhelmingly committed by the FRCI and the Dozos [traditional hunters from northern Ivory Coast who are pro-Ouattara]”. Ivorian authorities have not yet reacted to Amnesty’s accusations.
“Three months after Gbagbo’s arrest [on April 11], there’s an atmosphere of fear that’s being upheld by the FRCI and the Dozo militias,” explained Salvatore Saguès, an Amnesty International researcher specialised in western Africa, to FRANCE 24.
“Very serious instances of abuse have occurred and are very likely continuing, since nothing has been done to stop them since our mission in June.”
The atmosphere of fear cited by Saguès was also evoked by René Hokou Legré, president of the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO), who travelled only days ago to the city of Tabou, a city in the Bas-Sassandra region, located in the west of the country.
“If there are no visible tensions in the villages, many of the people we met have heard about the violence and say they are scared of going home,” Legré said. According to him, “displaced Ivorians are waiting for security guarantees before going home. They feel that the FRCI, whom they accuse of occupying homes and exploiting the residents’ plantations, are not yet paving the way for them to come back”.
Amnesty calls on President Ouattara to take action
The NGO’s report contains eloquent testimonies that break with President Ouattara’s apparent will to put an end to the conflicts dividing Ivorians. Since his arrival in power, Ouattara has indeed called for reconciliation and justice in the profoundly fractured country.
At a press conference given at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, he once again promised that there would be no impunity for those committing violence. “There will be no exceptions,” he said. “Ivorians will be treated equally, especially in the west of the country, where many have been killed. Those who committed crimes will face a judge. No exceptions, we are very clear on that,” he reiterated.
Those promises have been praised by Amnesty International, though the organisation also encouraged Ouattara to act quickly. “The new president speaks about the future, we are asking him to act immediately,” said Salvatore Saguès. “Because only concrete measures, for example the dismantling of the Dozo militia and the creation of a neutral security force, will put an end to this humanitarian crisis.”
The publication of the Amnesty International report comes the day after the UN decision to extend the mandate of its mission in Ivory Coast (established in 2004 by the UN Security Council) by one year. In the report, the NGO states that the mission (known as the ONUCI) was continuing to have difficulties carrying out its duties of protecting civilians.
“ONUCI needs to do more and reinforce its presence, they need to go where the people are being threatened,” Saguès said. “Some civilians told us that they still has not seen any UN patrol operations one month after a massacre had occurred in their village. That’s not normal.”