UN pledges to defend Ouattara and warns of consequences for war crimes in Ivory Coast

UN pledges to defend Ouattara and warns of consequences for war crimes in Ivory Coast

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[JURIST] Officials from the United Nations [official website] on Friday warned [UN News Centre report] supporters of ousted Ivory Coast [CIA backgrounder; JURIST news archive] president Laurent Gbagbo not to attack the Golf Hotel, where UN peacekeeping forces now stand guard over president-elect Alassane Ouattara [BBC profiles]. Y.J. Choi, head of the UN Ivory Coast Operation (UNOCI) [official website], said Gbagbo’s supporters “Cannot possibly take the Golf Hotel. We are heavily armed and present and preparing ourselves. They will be defeated. There is no doubt about this. I hope [they] will not step into this fatal minefield.” Also on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official biography] told the press that she has sent a letter to Gbagbo reiterating his obligation under international law to avoid any form of complicity in human rights violations. She reiterated the UN’s position that he and his administration will be held directly responsible for reported widespread abuses that have ensued in the violence following the November runoff election [WP report]. Of particular concern, stated Pillay, is the reported existence of several mass graves [Newstime Africa report]:

We have received reports of at least two mass graves; however, UN human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them. Denying access to alleged mass grave sites and places where the victims’ mortal remains are allegedly deposited constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In a United Nations Radio [official website] appearance Friday, Choi said that UN officials twice attempted to investigate the sites and were denied access by Gbagbo’s forces both times.

Ouattara defeated Gbagbo in a November 28 runoff election, but Gbagbo has refused to concede victory or leave office. During the post-election violence that ensued, hundreds have been arrested and dozens have allegedly been subjected to torture, ill treatment and forced disappearances. Earlier this week, UN officials urged [JURIST report] all parties to the disputed presidential election to honor the country’s commitment to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document [text, PDF]. Last week, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) [official website] expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over the humanitarian needs of nearly 14,000 Ivory Coast refugees who have fled to Liberia over the past month due to post-election political instability and violence. The UNHCR warned that food supplies and housing are running short as refugees are increasingly arriving malnourished and fighting disease. Earlier in December, the Economic Community of West African States [official website] urged [JURIST report] Gbagbo to step down, threatening the use of force if he attempts to maintain power.