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Ivory Coast: A Call for Return of Rule of Law

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Joe DeCapua

As mediators seek a solution to the political crisis in Ivory Coast, Amnesty International says the protection of human rights should be at the heart of their efforts.

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, has sent mediators to meet with the rival presidents Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.  The U.N. says Ouattara won the recent election.  But Mr. Gbagbo refuses to step down.

In Paris, Amnesty International Salavtore Sagues addressed the mediation efforts and the role of the U.N. force in Ivory Coast (UNOCI).

He says, “We are calling effectively the mediators of the ECOWAS to focus on the human rights situation because during…December we have seen that segments of the population have been attacked either by security forces or by militiamen loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.  And these people are without any protection.”

The human rights group says it has documented cases of extrajudicial killings of unarmed people by security forces during a protest march.  It also cites cases of beatings and abductions of people whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Sagues adds, “The only people that could protect them are the peacekeepers of the UNOCI.  And as you know, UNOCI has been prevented notably from investigating allegations of mass graves and other human rights violations.”

Amnesty is calling on mediators to take specific steps.

“One, to ensure that UNOCI is able to carry out its (U.N.) mandate of protection and investigation on human rights violations.                                                     And secondly, that there is a final sign sent to the population telling them that they will be protected against the people who are abducting them, killing them or arresting them arbitrarily,” says Sagues.

Military response?

But can Amnesty’s recommendations be carried out without some sort of military intervention?

The Amnesty researcher says, “We have no position on a military intervention.  But…you have some 10,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast and from what we hear from the UNOCI, is that it is not a problem so much for the time being of a number of people, but of their freedom of movement.  Several times they were either attacked or prevented from going to several places to investigate allegations.”

Sagues says initially ECOWAS was “quite strong” in its position on Ivory Coast.

“I think that the political settlement is something that will be settled in one way or another. We are strongly convinced that to get a lasting solution of this crisis we need to restore the rule of law in the country where for the last 10 years there has been impunity for human rights violations committed by both sides,” he says.

He says without justice and the prosecution of human rights abusers, “we are very concerned that Cote d’Ivoire won’t find a lasting solution for this crisis.”

The United Nations says at least 173 people have been killed in post-election violence and more than 14,000 people have fled the country, mostly to Liberia.

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