Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Cote D'ivoire: “It’s sheer horror we’re living here… People are being burned alive and hacked to bits"

Ivoirians say they fear what the country is coming to, as "inexplicable human slaughter" continues

IRIN - As reports by Human Rights Watch and formal documentation from the UN Human Rights Commission decry the worsening human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, many Ivoirians IRIN spoke with in Abidjan are appalled by recent acts of gruesome violence.

“We are seeing any and all forms of killing,” said an Ivoirian human rights activist who requested anonymity. “It’s sheer horror we’re living here… People are being burned alive and hacked to bits with machetes,” he said, adding that the violence seemed to be spiralling out of control.

Lassina*, 29, a cybercafé manager in Avocatier-Abobo neighbourhood (part of Abidjan’s Abobo District), said he has twice seen people burned alive. The latest incident he saw was on 5 March. “I heard cries from outside. When I went to see what was going on, youths were brandishing the burned bodies of two gendarmes like trophies.

“Not only is the country far from exiting its crisis, we have to deal with horrifying scenes like this,” he said.

The “betrayal” of Ivoirians’ hope that the 28 November second-round presidential election could be a first step on the road to peace and stability is contributing to the level of violence, said Rinaldo Depagne, senior West Africa analyst with International Crisis Group.

“That door was slammed shut; hope has vanished and now there is an absolutely dreadful state of desperation,” he told IRIN. “This degree of violence is quite unusual for Côte d’Ivoire; we didn’t even see this during armed conflict in 2002 and 2003 [the height of fighting following an armed rebellion].”

With such open displays of violence, Fatoumata Diaby, a 32-year-old housewife in Avocatier-Abobo, said she worries about what children are seeing. "I am shocked at how young girls and boys are witness to these horrific scenes... Human dignity crumbled in this country some time ago now. I wonder whether human life even has any meaning for Ivoirians any more. People are so thirsty for vengeance that they will slit someone’s throat without giving a damn."

Fabrice Danon, 35, a mason in Anonkoua-Abobo neighbourhood, is among hundreds of Ivoirians who have set up community self-defence groups in the past two months. He said one night armed men came and attacked his post. “They shot in the air, then attacked us. The head of our group was shot; as he was dying the armed men slit his throat with a machete. His body thrashed about like an animal’s. I was beside myself. Things have completely crossed the line."

In Abobo-Dokui neighbourhood, 33-year-old bus driver Maurine Koné said he could not believe he was in Côte d’Ivoire when he saw his nephew’s brutal murder. “Youths pulled him out of a bus and slit his throat. When I saw his body my legs gave out on me. This human slaughter is inexplicable."

He added: "But the moment of revenge is near. One must be patient.”

Point of no return

Asked whether the violence is at a point of no return, the human rights activist said it is still possible to avoid the worst - but only with a commitment to a peaceful settlement on the part of Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo. He said for now few people apart from some religious leaders are actively calling for calm, out of fear from both sides.

The problem, he said, is there is no neutral mediator. “Given that the UN and the international community have declared unbending support for Ouattara, they cannot move things towards peace because they are partisan.”

He said on the one hand the Ouattara camp does not think it has to back down, because they have the categorical backing of the international community; on the other, Gbagbo will not yield either, as he holds the reins of power. “And keep in mind, the electorate is split just about 50-50.”

Meanwhile, the sharply partisan media carry diverging accounts of the violence, depending on who is attacking whom.

“Moral collapse” screamed the headline of a pro-Ouattara newspaper on 7 March, for an article about women reportedly shot dead by security forces during a march calling for incumbent Gbagbo to step down. A pro-Gbagbo paper on the same day carried the headline: “Alleged murder of women in Abobo - a grotesque fabrication”.