U.N. rights chief concerned about new Ivory Coast army

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2011 1:33 PM
U.N. rights chief concerned about new Ivory Coast army

By Fredrik Dahl

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official expressed concern on Wednesday over acts of violence allegedly carried out by members of Ivory Coast's new army, including reports of summary executions, rape and torture.

The former rebel Forces Republicaines Cote d'Ivoire (FRCI) is now the backbone of the west African state's armed forces after the ousting of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo two months ago.

"Lack of discipline and violence on the part of the newly established army, the FRCI, which is composed of several different groups with no clear command structure, are ... of serious concern," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

"There are reports alleging that soldiers were involved in human rights violations in both Abidjan and the rest of the country, including summary executions, arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, looting and extortion."

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, made the comments as she presented a report on Ivory Coast to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Ivory Coast plunged into a four-month conflict after a disputed presidential election last November which U.N.-certified results showed Gbagbo lost to Alassane Ouattara, but Gbagbo refused to step-down.

The conflict, which killed about 3,000 and displaced over a million, ended in April after troops loyal to Ouattara swept through the country and ousted Gbagbo with the help of U.N. and French forces.

VICTORY JUSTICE?

A U.N. investigative team last week said both sides had committed serious human rights violations, some of which may be considered crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ouattara, who has set security and economic recovery as priorities, has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of serious crimes during the conflict. He has also created a truth and reconciliation commission.

Pillay said security in Abidjan, the cocoa producer's commercial center, and in the west had improved since a serious escalation of violence in the lead-up to Gbagbo's arrest.

But the human rights situation remained a serious concern, she said, citing reports of excessive use of force against civilians, retaliatory killings, pillaging and sexual violence.

Vitit Muntabhorn, a Thai law professor and human rights expert who headed the U.N. investigative commission in Ivory Coast last month, also voiced concern over the "malpractices of some elements affiliated" with the army.

The presence of young, armed people who say they belong to FRCI forces fed insecurity and "it is urgent for measures to be taken to disarm them, to dismantle militia and to establish a professional army which respects human rights," he said.

Another member of the U.N. commission, Suliman Baldo, said concern about "one-sided victory justice" was well-founded.

"Those who are under investigation currently, either by the military prosecutor or by the civilian prosecutor, are all from the former officials of the government of Laurent Gbagbo," Baldo told a news conference.

He said the team had met with Gbagbo and his wife, under house arrest in the country's north, while in Ivory Coast.

"They are well-treated according to their own statements, their immediate protection is ensured by the United Nations," Baldo said.

(Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)