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UN Concerned About Ivory Coast Human Rights Violations

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast is expressing concern over continuing human rights abuses throughout the war-divided country. A U.N. report says the violations could aggravate instances of violence in the largely frozen conflict.

The United Nations report on the state of human rights from May through July in Ivory Coast highlighted several areas of concern.

Disappearances, summary executions, and death threats continue to be a problem. Arbitrary arrests are common and widespread and instances of sexual violence against women and human trafficking for prostitution are specifically singled out.

The head of the human rights division for the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, Simon Munzu, says the results of its three-month report give little room for optimism.

"The trend is still very much in the same direction, in the direction of a lack of improvement in the human rights situation. The level of violations that we observe is still so high that we continue to be preoccupied," he said.

The violations, Mr. Munzu says, are occurring in the northern half of the country under rebel control and in the government-held south. Instances have also been reported in the U.N.- and French-patrolled buffer zone that divides Ivory Coast.

Especially worrying, says the report, is an escalation in the level of inter-ethnic violence in parts of the country's west. In June, weeks of low-level violence there culminated in the massacre of dozens of inhabitants of two small villages near the city of Duekoue.

The cocoa-rich area has long been the scene of disputes over land ownership. But Mr. Munzu says the country's warring factions have played a role in fueling ethnic hatred.

"There is a general sense of political influence on the pattern of violations. There are political overtones to the inter-ethnic tensions that we observe," he added.

The government in the southern capital, Abidjan, replaced civilian local governments in the west with a military administration soon after the massacre. The goal, said President Laurent Gbagbo, was to stabilize the security situation there.

Mr. Munzu says an atmosphere of impunity still reigns in most of the country. And, in the west, he says, that has led groups that see themselves as victimized to take measures to ensure their own security. He says steps must be taken quickly to protect the human rights of everyone.

"Without doing that we are in effect creating a situation where people take the law into their own hands," he explained. "And when people take the law into their own hands, especially in the context of inter-ethnic conflict, then of course, we know what that can lead to. We have seen the havoc that it has caused in other countries."

Direct fighting between rebel New Forces and government troops is rare.

But in a report published earlier this week, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization, stated that if measures were not taken soon to resolve Ivory Coast's three-year-old civil war, the once wealthy nation could end up like neighbors Liberia and Sierra Leone, which witnessed decades of bloody ethnic fighting.