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March 03, 2011

UN: Ivorian Human Rights Violations Mounting

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reports human rights violations in Ivory Coast are mounting as inter-communal and inter-ethnic tensions continue to increase. U.N. officials blame most of the abuse on armed forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo who, the U.N. maintains, lost the recent presidential election.

U.N. Human Rights Spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the human rights situation in Ivory Coast is rapidly deteriorating. He points to recent events that show the number of killings of unarmed civilians is going up.  

U.N. officials say that on Thursday, security forces loyal to President Gbagbo, opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by women. Six women were killed on the spot and a 7th woman has since died. Many others were wounded.

Colville says it is difficult to get an accurate number of deaths, but U.N. and international agencies estimate about 365 people have been killed since mid-December.   

The United Nations recognizes Alassane Outtara as the winner of the presidential election in November but incumbent President Gbagbo has refused to cede power.

“There is increasing evidence that both sides, forces from both sides are involved in human rights abuses, including rapes, abductions and killings," said Colville. "Families of high profile individuals known to be politically active have been specifically targeted. And, there are also reports that media organizations seen as being pro-Outtara have been threatened and as a result, six newspapers have ceased functioning, at least temporarily.”  

Colville says hate messages are continuing to be broadcast against the U.N., leading directly to attacks on U.N. staff and vehicles.

The human rights and humanitarian situations in the Ivory Coast have steadily worsened since the disputed Presidential elections.

Both sides have set up competing governments with competing armies. Colville says High Commissioner Pillay, is concerned civilians are being used as pawns in this ongoing battle.  

“The High Commissioner is also very concerned at the cutting off of electricity and water supplies to the north of the country. That is the part of the country that is allied with Mr. Ouattara," Colville said. "We have also received reports that a previously unknown group calling themselves The Invisible Commando are preventing civilians from leaving the Abobo suburb of Abidjan and other suburbs as well and are effectively using civilians as human shields to prevent attacks by forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo. ”  

Colville says the United Nations is particularly concerned that families are essentially confined to buildings such as churches and other public places, with no humanitarian supplies. He says they are unable to leave.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates more than 200,000 people have fled from certain areas in and around Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, and are displaced.