UN: Ivory Coast gov't not ordering forces to kill

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2012 11:54 AM
UN: Ivory Coast gov't not ordering forces to kill

Ivory Coast security forces accused of killings, arbitrary arrests and other human rights violations are acting alone and not under government orders, a United Nations official said Wednesday, as the West African nation struggles to impose order after months of violence and chaos.

Doudou Diene, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Ivory Coast, said in Wednesday's report that most of the violations in the country result "less from the state's complicity than from its failure to prevent them, because of the difficulty of reforming the security sector."

Officials in Ivory Coast did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. An Ivorian official said earlier this month that the government was aware of lawlessness in the country and was attempting to curb it, but that it was "difficult" because of the amount of illegal weapons in circulation.

Diene implicated government forces in 27 cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, 22 cases of arbitrary arrest and 9 killings during the last months of 2011. His report was based on two visits to Ivory Coast in November and December. U.N. spokesman Martin Seutcheu in Geneva said Diene presented the report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva Wednesday morning.

Ivory Coast was plunged into chaos after former strongman Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing a 2010 election to elected President Alassane Ouattara. The U.N. says at least 3,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence. Gbagbo was sent to the International Criminal Court last year to face charges of murder, rape and other crimes allegedly committed by his supporters.

Ivory Coast's new military, the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, is composed mostly of rebel soldiers who helped bring Ouattara to power last spring.

The government has attempted to merge the former rebels, who hail from the predominantly Muslim north, with members of former military. Those two armed groups fought each other during the 2011 violence, and have a long history of political and ethnic division.

Diene cited the government's difficulties in merging the forces.

"The promised creation of a national army reflecting the country's ethnic, religious and cultural diversity has been delayed because those who participated in the rebellion have differing backgrounds and have not all received standard military training," he reported.

Human rights groups questioned some aspects of the U.N. report.

A researcher at Human Rights Watch said the report "shies away" from criticism.

"As he continues his vital work after a decade of grave human rights abuses, the Independent Expert should look more deeply at the role of the Republican Forces in ongoing abuses and at the one-sided justice that threatens to further political-ethnic tensions," Matt Wells said.

The International Crisis Group also said that the violations are still the government's responsibility.

"I share the view that most violations ... are linked to the lack of progress in initial steps of security sector reform," said Gilles Yabi, West Africa Project Director of the International Crisis Group. The violations, he said, "have to do with the indiscipline of (the Republican Forces), lack of clear chain of command and control, and a strong sense of impunity."

But, he added: "Saying that does not mean that the state does not have a responsibility ... A better control of the (Republican Forces) and strong and visible sanctions of the perpetrators is of course government's responsibility."

Diene also said he was "troubled" by reports of attacks against religious buildings and leaders in late 2011.

He reported "some 40 attacks" by members of government forces and unidentified armed men.

"Priests and laypeople were manhandled, humiliated and stripped naked in the attacks, and a number of ceremonial objects and items belonging to the clergy were removed," he reported. "The recurrence and scale of the attacks, the victims and targets chosen and the modus operandi of these armed men suggest that the acts were carefully planned and orchestrated."