Human rights abuses have been committed by forces loyal to the incumbent leader of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo and by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara, an Amnesty International investigation reported Tuesday.
Gaetan Mootoo is one of the Amnesty researchers who went to Ivory Coast to investigate human rights abuses there. The team stayed for four weeks. “Human rights violations are being committed by both the security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo and by the Forces Nouvelles, an armed opposition group which is supporting Alassane Ouattara,” Mootoo said.
Alassane Ouattara is internationally recognized as the winner of the November election but Laurent Gbagbo, who has been president since the year 2000, is refusing to step down.
The Amnesty research has found that forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have committed extrajudicial executions, rape, and used excessive force. Amnesty says a number of people have also disappeared after being arrested.
But Amnesty says the Forces Nouvelles, former rebels loyal to Mr. Outtara, have also been responsible for abuses.
Mootoo says they received credible testimonies of rape, arbitrary detention, and ill treatment by members of the Forces Nouvelles in the western region it controls. He says African leaders who arrived in Ivory Coast Monday in order to try to mediate the situation need to address violations on both sides of the political divide.
“What we would like the African Union to do is to put Human Rights on the agenda of both parties so that they are aware of what is happening in that country,” Mootoo said.
Rinaldo Depagne is a senior West Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group. He’s based in Dakar, Senegal. He says Amnesty International should make a clear distinction between abuses carried out by either side. "It's very important to highlight the abuse on both sides,” he said. “But it is also very important not to put them in the current circumstances on the same level because they are not."
He says Mr. Gbagbo is carrying out what he calls a “real strategy of terror”. On Monday Ivorian troops broke up demonstrations calling for Mr. Gbagbo to step down - according to witnesses several people were killed.
Depagne says the situation in the West is specific to that region. Human Rights Groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, say the far western regions of Ivory Coast are characterized by a breakdown of the rule of law and that assaults, rapes, and robbery are regularly carried out with impunity.