(ZWEDRU) – Forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 alleged supporters of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, and burned at least 10 villages in Côte d’Ivoire’s far western region, Human Rights Watch said today. Forces loyal to Gbagbo killed more than 100 presumed Ouattara supporters as Ouattara’s forces advanced in their March campaign. Upon taking power, Ouattara should urgently open a credible and impartial investigation into serious abuses by both sides and ensure that those responsible at all levels are brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces, now called the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, FRCI), summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush. The fighters often targeted people by ethnicity, and the attacks disproportionally affected those too old or feeble to flee.
“Killing and raping civilians is no way for Ouattara’s forces to end this conflict,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Ouattara should fulfill his public pledge to investigate and prosecute abuses by both sides if Côte d’Ivoire is to emerge from this horrific period.”
In one particularly horrific incident, hundreds of ethnic Guéré civilians perceived as supporting Gbagbo were massacred in the western town of Duékoué by a mixture of pro-Ouattara groups, including Republican Forces under the overall command of Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro.
Three Human Rights Watch researchers conducted investigations in the Grand Gedeh region of Liberia between March 26 and April 7, interviewing over 120 victims of and witnesses to human rights abuses committed by both sides’ forces in the far western region of Côte d’Ivoire. More than 40,000 Ivorians have fled to Grand Gedeh as a result of the fighting. Human Rights Watch also interviewed some 20 victims and witnesses still in the far west towns of Guiglo, Duékoué, and Bloléquin by telephone.
The abuses documented by Human Rights Watch occurred from March 6 to 30, 2011, as the western towns of Toulepleu, Doké, Bloléquin, Duékoué, and Guiglo, all formerly controlled by pro-Gbagbo forces, fell to the pro-Ouattara forces seeking to force Gbagbo from the presidency. He has rejected calls to step down after an election Ouattara is internationally recognized to have won.
Ouattara’s Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire comprise a loose coalition of combatants who previously fought for the Forces Nouvelles (“New Forces”) rebellion, the long-time rebel army led by Soro that has controlled the northern half of the country since late 2002. The Republican Forces also include former Ivorian army soldiers, policemen, and gendarmes who have recently defected from Gbagbo’s side.
In village after village investigated by Human Rights Watch, Republican Forces combatants killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guéré population. The Guéré are originally from western Côte d’Ivoire and largely supported Gbagbo in last year’s election. A 47-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that she looked on as two fighters killed her father, husband, and 10-year-old son around the family’s cocoa farm near Doké. A 32-year-old man described pro-Ouattara forces entering Diboké and opening fire on civilians as they ran out to see which side’s forces had entered, killing at least three people right in front of him. In at least 10 villages around Toulepleu and Bloléquin, villagers said they hid in the bush and watched as the Republican Forces set fire to houses and buildings used to store crops and seeds, slaughtered animals, and stole everything of value.
Many residents fled in anticipation of or immediately upon the arrival of pro-Ouattara forces. Others, particularly some elderly residents who were unable to undertake the 40 or more kilometer walk to neighboring Liberia, were caught by the Republican Forces and held captive in their villages. Human Rights Watch documented the execution of more than 30 of these detained civilians. One 67-year-old woman described pro-Ouattara fighters taking several captives out each day – often men and women between 60 and 80 years old – and executing them at point-blank range.
Dozens of women were also detained for a day or longer and repeatedly raped. One woman from Bakoubli, near Toulepleu, said the forces raped her in front of her children, then killed her husband who tried to intervene.
UPDATES – April 18, 2011
- Ivorian President Gbagbo Arrested | EuroNews (Video)
- EU Welcomes Ouattara’s Vision for Ivory Coast | EUXTV (Video)
- Corinne Dufka Of Human Rights Watch Discusses Ivory Coast War Crimes | Democracy NOW! (Video)