Ivory Coast: Amnesty International Warns of Human Rights and Humanitarian Catastrophe as Forces Advance on Ivory Coast Capital

Press Release
March 31, 2011

Ivory Coast: Amnesty International Warns of Human Rights and Humanitarian Catastrophe as Forces Advance on Ivory Coast Capital

Amnesty International
Press Release
For Immediate Release
Thursday, March 31, 2011

Amnesty International Warns of Human Rights and Humanitarian Catastrophe as Forces Advance on Ivory Coast Capital

Organization Calls on International Community to Protect Civilians as Violence Escalates

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – With violence escalating and forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara advancing toward the Ivory Coast capital of Abedjan, Amnesty International warned today that the capital city faces a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe and urged the international community to protect civilians. The organization said it has learned of retribution attacks and uncontrolled armed elements looting and burning homes and shooting civilians in the west.

“Abidjan is on the brink of a human right catastrophe and total chaos,” said Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa.

“Côte d’Ivoire is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population,” said Saguès. “The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.”

Since the beginning of the week, the Republican Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara have launched a general offensive against the forces loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power.

As the Republican forces advance in the west and in the center of the country, violence has escalated.

A recent flashpoint has been in the town of Guiglo, 372 miles west of Abidjan, where sources have told Amnesty International that uncontrolled armed elements loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, including Liberian mercenaries, burned and looted houses, and shot and wounded several civilians yesterday.

“The escalation of this conflict, and increased reliance on mercenaries and untrained recruits, means there is a huge and immediate risk of massive human rights violations in the coming days as the Republican Forces advance on Abidjan,” said Saguès.

On March 19, Gbagbo's minister for youth Charles Blé Goudé, called on Gbagbo’s Young Patriot movement members to volunteer as militiamen to ‘liberate’ the country. The Young Patriots have announced that they have recruited 20,000 soldiers.

Amnesty International has also received reports of retribution attacks against civilians committed by both sides in the western town of Duékoué.

Local sources have told Amnesty International’s delegation currently in Côte d’Ivoire that dead bodies are still lying in the streets of Duékoué, and tens of thousands of civilians are still sheltering in the Catholic Mission without adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care.

On Tuesday, the Republican Forces killed civilian Jean Louana, election campaign director of one of the current ministers appointed by Laurent Gbagbo. They also shot down a pastor of an evangelical church along with eight members of his congregation.

Two other civilians, a Muslim imam and a national of Burkina Faso, were killed on Monday by militiamen loyal to Laurent Gbagbo during fighting for control of Duékoué.

Amnesty International is calling on both sides of the conflict to strictly abide by international humanitarian law and take all necessary precautions to protect civilians.

Violence has escalated in Côte d'Ivoire in the wake of the disputed presidential election of last November.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.