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UN Accuses Government of Togo of Human Rights Abuse


The United Nations accuses the Togolese authorities of using disproportionate force to crush activists opposed to the presidential elections. In a report released today, U.N. investigators say hundreds of people were killed and thousands wounded by government security and armed forces.

The U.N. report says between 400 and 500 people were killed and thousands wounded in violence before, during, and immediately after Togo's Presidential elections on April 24. A team of U.N. investigators blames security and armed forces for using disproportionate force and a strategy of repression against opposition activists.

For example, U.N. Human Rights spokesman Jose Dias says the authorities used elite military combat units to put down demonstrations. He says the investigators see this as evidence that the government had planned to repress opposition activists from the beginning.

"For example, they point to reliable information pointing to the fact that some 2,500 soldiers were put in civilian clothes, armed with machetes and clubs with nails and other weapons," he said. "That they were organized in groups of 200 to back up governing party activists and militants in order to put down demonstrations."

The report notes that opposition activists also committed human rights abuses and played a role in mounting political tension in the run-up to the presidential vote. But, it says the main blame for the violence and subsequent violations of human rights goes to the government.

After the death of Togo's long-serving President, Gnassingbe Eyadema in February, the army named his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as leader of the former French colony. This resulted in violent protests. An election was called under international pressure, but more protests erupted after the son was declared the winner.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, sent a team of human-rights and forensic experts to Togo in June to investigate the circumstances surrounding the violence.

Mr. Dias says the investigators also found that government forces used torture and inhumane and degrading treatment on a large scale.

"They talk about people being tortured in order to obtain information or to force confessions from opposition activists," added Mr. Dias. "There is also testimony indicating that there was rape and sexual violence used as well. So, it is a very grim picture that is painted in the report."

The investigators also traveled to neighboring Benin and Ghana where nearly 40,000 Togolese have taken refuge. Mr. Dias says the experts interviewed many refugees who had been seriously wounded. They said they were very fearful about returning to Togo and would not go home without guarantees of security.

Mr. Dias says the Togolese government has not commented on the report.