War crimes on both sides of Ivorian conflict: Amnesty

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Ivorian forces loyal to both former president Laurent Gbagbo and current president Alassane Ouattara committed war crimes during a violent standoff over a disputed poll, said Amnesty International.

An investigation by the rights group details testimony from witnesses and victims of the violence perpetrated in the months following the disputed November 28 election, which plunged the West African nation back into civil war when Gbagbo refused to step down, despite U.N.-certified results showing he lost.

It also criticises the UN peacekeeping force for what it says was a “failure to protect civilians” from armed groups, Reuters reports.

The poll was meant to seal peace after years of crisis since the last civil war in 2002-3 split the country in two. Instead it sparked a deadly conflict.
“Hundreds of people have been unlawfully killed, often only on the grounds of their ethnicity and presumed political affiliation. Women and adolescents have been victims of sexual violence, including rape, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes,” Amnesty said.

The crisis eased when Gbagbo was captured on April 11 by pro-Ouattara forces backed by the French military.

The report entitled “‘They looked at his identity card and shot him dead’: Six months of post electoral violence in Cote D’Ivoire” details pages of eyewitnesses testimony of abuses.

Many of the abuses were by Gbagbo’s security forces and allied militias as they tried to maintain his grip on power by crushing dissent.

But troops professing allegiance to Ouattara also committed abuses, including summary executions, burning villages and a massacre of civilians in the town of Duekoue, Amnesty said.
“The conclusions in this report clearly show that all parties to the conflict have committed crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the report said.

TRUTH, JUSTICE, RECONCILIATION

Many of the testimonies suggest a strongly tribal flavour to the violence, with security forces and pro-Gbagbo militias checking ID cards before killing members of Ouattara’s Dioula tribe, and pro-Ouattara forces destroying villages belonging to tribes seen as pro-Gbagbo and killing their inhabitants.

In the massacre at Duekoue by pro-Ouattara forces in April, in which hundreds are thought to have died, the report criticises U.N. peacekeepers for failing to intervene.
“The massacre at Duekoue took place in spite of the presence of a UNOCI base 1 km from … the main location of the killings. The first people to find refuge in the Catholic Mission requested the help of the peacekeeping force but received no assistance,” it said.

Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court to probe allegations of serious crimes during the crisis, a request which may help shine light on abuses by both sides during a conflict that killed thousands and displaced more than a million.

He also wants a separate domestic trial for Gbagbo, currently imprisoned in the north, and his close associates.



But such an aim may fit badly with his pledge for a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to help a divided nation come to terms with some of the worst violence in its recent history.
“No reconciliation will be possible in Cote d’Ivoire unless justice and reparation is provided to all the victims of the terrible massacres and other human rights violations,” the Amnesty report said.