Ivory Coast: UN Peacekeepers Must Protect Thousands of Civilians Caught in Fighting in Ivory Coast, Says Amnesty International

Press Release
March 29, 2011

Ivory Coast: UN Peacekeepers Must Protect Thousands of Civilians Caught in Fighting in Ivory Coast, Says Amnesty International

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UN Peacekeepers Must Protect Thousands of Civilians Caught in Fighting in Ivory Coast, Says Amnesty International

Tens of Thousands of Civilians are Sheltering in Catholic Mission After Escaping Fierce Battles in West

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-533-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(London) – Amnesty International today called on U.N.peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to urgently protect as many as 10,000 displaced people sheltering in a Catholic mission in the west of the country, amid fierce fighting.

As many as 10,000 civilians are sheltering in the mission in the town of Duékoué, after escaping fierce battles Monday between forces supporting the internationally recognized elected President Alassane Ouattara and militiamen loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo.

Amnesty International fears that the displaced people as well as tens of thousands of other Duékoué residents could be at risk of a repeat of January violence, in which some 40 people were killed in fierce communal clashes and a number of women were victims of rape and sexual violence.

“The U.N. mandate in Côte d’Ivoire requires the peacekeepers to protect civilians at imminent threat of physical violence. They must act immediately to prevent further bloodshed,” said Veronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa. “The U.N. camp is only about 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) away from Duékoué and we are urging them to use all means necessary to protect civilians against the violence taking place on their own doorstep.”

Witnesses told Amnesty International’s delegation currently in Ivory Coast that on Monday, forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara took partial or total control of Duékoué and Daloa, two towns located in the heart of the western cocoa belt.

Sources said electricity in Duékoué has also been cut, apparently as a result of the fighting, depriving people in the area of water.

“The U.N. Security Council must make it clear to U.N. peacekeepers that they must act immediately and effectively to protect internally displaced people and other civilians at risk in the area, according to their mandate,” said Aubert.

U.N. peacekeepers have frequently been prevented from protecting civilians since the conflict began escalating last December following the contested presidential elections. All parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights violations including unlawful killings and rape and sexual violence against women.

Opposition candidate Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the poll but the outgoing President Gbagbo has refused to recognize these results.

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.