[JURIST] Democratically elected Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara should investigate “atrocities,” including murder and rape, committed by opposing political forces during recent conflicts, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [press release] requested Saturday. According to the report, forces loyal to Ouattara, known as the Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, killed more than 100 civilians, raped at least 20 supporters of rival Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] and burned at least 10 villages over the past month. The report also accused forces loyal to Gbagbo of killing at least 100 rival supporters in the month of March. Three HRW investigators conducted investigations and interviews with Ivory Coast civilians over the past month and determined that numerous abuses had occurred on both sides of the political conflict. The report calls on Ouattara to investigate these various violations of International Law and to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations:
Both pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces are obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, for a non-international armed conflict, as found in the Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law. … Anyone who participates in, orders, or has command responsibility for serious laws-of-war violations committed with criminal intent may be prosecuted for war crimes. Serious crimes, including murder and rape, committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, such as a political or ethnic group, may be prosecuted as crimes against humanity. States have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on their territory, or ensure that individuals implicated are prosecuted in another venue.
The report emphasized that human rights violations have been a continuous occurrence during the Ivory Coast political conflict [JURIST news archive] and called on Ouattara to provide as much protection as possible to civilians to prevent the continuance of these abuses.
Earlier this week, International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] told reporters that he is willing to investigate [JURIST report] alleged war crimes in the Ivory Coast, but a lack of referrals is impeding the process. Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence that took place. Earlier, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged all parties in the Ivory Coast to show restraint [JURIST report]. Last month, the OHCHR called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST report]. In January, UN officials expressed “grave concerns” [JURIST report] regarding the post-election violence, cautioning that genocide could be imminent. In February, Gbagbo dissolved [JURIST report] the country’s parliament and electoral commission based on allegations of voter fraud in the long delayed presidential elections. On disbanding the government, Gbagbo charged Prime Minister Guillaume Soro [BBC profile] with creation of new government and new election format. The violence stems from Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power to president-elect Alassane Ouattara, who won the November 2010 runoff election according to international observers. Gbagbo was elected president in 2000 to serve a five-year term, but he has managed to stay in office, delaying six successive elections.
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