Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cote D'ivoire: Deadly shelling of Ivorian market may be crime against humanity

Refugees who fled the post-election instability in Côte d'Ivoire wait to be registered at a camp in Liberia

UN - United Nations officials today intensified their condemnation of an attack yesterday by forces allied to Côte d’Ivoire’s defeated president on a market that killed 25 to 30 people and wounded dozens more, with the Organization’s human rights office warning that it could be a crime against humanity.

Such charges can bring the alleged perpetrator within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose prosecutor is already leading a preliminary examination into the deadly violence sparked by former president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down despite his UN-certified and internationally recognized defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in last November’s run-off elections.

“We utterly condemn yesterday's attack by rockets or other missiles on a civilian area in the Abobo suburb of the [commercial] capital Abidjan,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva, referring to the neighbourhood that is a Ouattara stronghold.

“It is quite difficult to avoid the conclusion that this may be an international crime, possibly a crime against humanity. We are very concerned that the situation in Côte d’Ivoire appears to have deteriorated even further over the past week.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced shock at the attack, in which six mortars were fired into the market, condemned the recent escalation of violence, and warned the Ivorian parties to bring the fighting and related human rights violations to an end without further delay.

“The Secretary-General urges the Security Council to take further measures with regard to the Ivorian individuals who are instigating, orchestrating and committing the violence,” a statement issued by his spokesperson said.

The UN peacekeeping operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), which has blamed Gbagbo loyalists for much of the violence that has killed over 400 people since December and voiced outrage immediately after yesterday’s attack on the Ouattara stronghold of Abobo, has vowed that the perpetrators will not go unpunished.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos voiced grave concern today. “The incident demonstrates a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects,” she said in a news release.

“It is an alarming development in the conduct of the current hostilities and underlines the dreadful humanitarian impact of explosive weapons when used in populated areas.”

She noted that violations appear to have been perpetrated by forces loyal to both sides, provoking a humanitarian crisis, both in Abidjan and throughout the country. Some 300,000 people have been displaced in Abidjan while 45,000 are displaced in the west of the country and over 75,000 others have fled across the border to Liberia.

Citing increasing restrictions on the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need due to escalating violence and direct obstruction, Ms. Amos voiced particular concern over reports that civilians wishing to flee the violence in Abobo are prevented from doing so while others who are able to access assistance are intimidated into refusing it.

“I call on those involved in the violence to respect the civilian population and allow rapid, safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations to those in need,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed today for $51 million to meet the rapidly growing humanitarian needs of children and families devastated by the post-election crisis. At least 60 per cent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 85 per cent of the refugees in Liberia are women and children.

“Over the next three months, this critically needed funding will help UNICEF continue to provide life-saving emergency supplies and services to the increasing number of children affected by the crisis,” the agency said in a news release.