The United Nations defended itself against accusations it failed to protect civilians during Ivory Coast’s post-election crisis, saying expectations of its forces were unrealistic.
An investigation by the rights group Amnesty International published this week alleged the 12,000-strong local U.N. force failed in its mandate to protect civilians from armed groups during a five-month power struggle in which thousands died.
It singled out a massacre in the western town of Duekoue in which hundreds were killed in inter-ethnic violence as forces loyal to now President Alassane Ouattara advanced towards the main city Abidjan, Reuters reports.
The Amnesty report noted there was a U.N. base about a kilometre (half a mile) from the main location of the killings. But U.N. mission human rights officer Guillaume Ngefa said the peacekeeping force had done all it could.
“Even though we had this (mandate) to intervene in cases where there was imminent danger, there were a lot of requests to ONUCI (the U.N. mission),” he said.
“There’s a perception amongst the population, which demands of ONUCI that it saves almost every Ivorian. They have to recognise we do not have this capacity,” he told a news conference at ONUCI headquarters in Abidjan.
Ngefa said they had received some 15,000 calls asking for help over the period of the crisis, which was sparked when former incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down despite U.N.-certified results showing he lost the election.
Gbagbo was captured at his residence last month by pro-Ouattara forces backed by the French military.
Ngefa said U.N. mobility was limited because they were under constant attack by pro-Gbagbo forces, which often opened fire on U.N. convoys or tried to block their movements.
“Even though limited, even though targets for attack, we did everything we could,” he said.
Ngefa said an investigation showed at least 1,012 were killed in the far-west regions of Moyen Cavally and Dix-Huit Montagnes during the fighting. In Duekoue, 505 people were killed — 341 of them from the Guere tribe seen as mostly pro-Gbagbo. That toll is lower than the 800 initially advanced by aid workers.
Ngefa also said the investigation documented 46 cases of rape of women, some of them pregnant and others under-aged.
Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court to probe allegations of serious crimes during the crisis, in which thousands died and more than a million were displaced.
He also wants a separate domestic trial for Gbagbo and of his close associates, while promising a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to help a divided nation come to terms with the violence.