UN warns Ivory Coast shelling may be war crime

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[JURIST] The UN peacekeeping operation (UNOCI) [official website] in the Ivory Coast [BBC country profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday denounced the shelling of a market [press release, in French] in the capital Abidjan which killed 25 to 30 civilians and injured scores more, calling it a possible war crime. In the statement, UNOCI condemned the use of violence against civilians:

The authors of these abusive acts, which constitute flagrant violations of human rights, will not go unpunished. UNOCI reserves the right to take appropriate measures to prevent such acts in the future, in compliance with our mandate to protect the civilian population.

UNOCI confirmed on Friday that pro-Gbagbo security forces used 81mm mortars and indicated the attack on civilians may constitute a crime against humanity [press release, in French]. Gbagbo’s government has denied shelling civilians [BBC report], calling the accusations part of a conspiracy between the UN, Ouattara’s supporters and France to oust Gbagbo. UNOCI recently updated the death toll following the November elections to 410 [AFP report], not including those killed in recent days.

Violence in the Ivory Coast has steadily increased since the disputed elections in November. Earlier this week, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast as part of a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website]. In January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] rejected the proposed recount [JURIST report] of November’s Ivory Coast presidential runoff election results as a “grave injustice and unfortunate precedent.” Also in January, UN officials expressed “grave concerns” [JURIST report] on continued post-election violence in the Ivory Coast, cautioning that genocide could be imminent. In December, UN officials urged all parties to the disputed presidential election in the Ivory Coast to honor the country’s commitment to prevent genocide [JURIST report], crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document [text, PDF]. Also in December, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website] urged Gbagbo to step down, threatening the use of force [JURIST report] if he attempts to maintain power. Gbagbo has refused to cede power to president-elect Ouattara [BBC profiles], who won the November 28 runoff election according to international observers.

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