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Human Rights Watch Accuses Ivory Coast Army of Torture

A new report by international watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, accuses Ivory Coast’s military of abuses during a security crackdown following a recent wave of attacks. HRW says the military’s tactics have included torture and could slow the country’s recovery from a brutal post-election conflict that ended last year.

Human Rights Watch says the military, officially known as the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, has unfairly targeted perceived supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo in response to the attacks.

In a report released Monday, HRW says hundreds of people have been swept up in mass arrests and held illegally in military camps where they have been subject to beatings, extortion and degrading detention conditions.

HRW Ivory Coast researcher Matt Wells says soldiers feel free to commit abuses because they are never held accountable. "Despite its promises, the Ouattara government has failed to tackle the culture of impunity among the Republican Forces, particularly at the command level. In response, particularly to these findings of torture, it’s crucial that the government quickly open an investigation, find those responsible and bring them to justice," he said.

VOA spoke with six people who say they were tortured by the Republican Forces. They asked VOA not to use their names for fear of reprisals.

A member of Gbagbo’s political party, says soldiers came for him at his office just days after the attacks began. He was taken to a military camp in Abidjan’s Adjame neighborhood and held there for two weeks. He says dozens of prisoners were crammed into a room measuring 4 by 6 meters, meaning they could only crouch or stand. He says soldiers were beating us with everything they had -- some with sticks, some with belts. He says soldiers would ask guards to bring them belts and they would start beating on the pro-Gbagbos because they thought we were part of militias.

That prisoner says his ordeal ended after he appeared in court and a judge let him go.

Many have never gotten that chance.

Human Rights Watch says detainees are often caught up in what it called a “lucrative extortion scheme.” HRW says soldiers do not charge detainees with any crimes or take down their names. Their only way out is for relatives to come and pay hundreds of dollars to secure their release.

High-level government officials have acknowledged abuses on the part of the military. But while vowing to investigate the perpetrators, the government says it is important to stand by the Republican Forces because of the serious security threats facing the country.

However, victims told VOA that the actions of the Republican Forces are only deepening divisions and further angering those already hostile to the government.

Another victim says he was held for three days at a camp in Abidjan’s Marcory neighborhood, says the current environment makes it impossible to talk about reconciliation. He says Gbagbo supporters are open to making peace with those on Ouattara’s side, but that this will be impossible so long as the military’s abuses are allowed to continue.