Armed forces in Ivory Coast who back incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo have conducted a campaign of violence that has included execution, kidnapping, torture and rape, Human Rights Watch said.
The New York-based watchdog group said an “in-depth investigation” of allegations of human rights violations in Abidjan, the main city in the world’s top cocoa producer, had revealed an “an often-organized campaign of violence.”
“The security forces and militias supporting Laurent Gbagbo are imposing a reign of terror against his real or perceived opponents in Abidjan,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, which monitors rights violations globally, Reuters reports.
“The international community must do all it can to protect civilians and increase pressure on Gbagbo and his allies to end this organized campaign of violence,” he said.
The report was released as cracks emerged in African efforts to end a power struggle in Ivory Coast, with Uganda the latest country to question UN recognition of Alassane Ouattara as its president.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he disagreed with the UN line on the crisis, as a delegation of West African states prepared a US trip to lobby President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to back the possible use of force to oust Gbagbo.
A Human Rights Watch report on the investigation said researchers spoke with over 100 people who had witnessed or been victims of violence since late November 2010. The attacks included “killings by militiamen with bricks and clubs, and sexual assaults in front of family members,” it said.
POLICE PRAISE KILLINGS
“Witnesses described seeing family members or neighbors dragged from their homes, mosques, restaurants or the street into waiting vehicles,” it said. “Many were ‘disappeared,’ including some victims who were later found dead.”
The worst attacks, the group said, occurred in the Abobo, Port-Bouet, Youpougon and Koumassi neighborhoods — areas heavily populated by Ouattara supporters and immigrants from other parts of West Africa.
Human Rights Watch said most killings by “pro-Gbagbo militias” took place in broad daylight when the victim was stopped at an illicit checkpoint and ordered to show identification.
“If the militiamen believed … that he was a Muslim or from an ethnic group that tended to support Ouattara, the militiamen would surround him, accuse him of being a ‘marcher’ or ‘rebel,’ and beat the victim to death with iron bars, pieces of wood and bricks,” the report said.
Police and other security forces either actively sided with the militias or stood by while crimes were committed, “openly praising the killings,” it said.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented gang rapes of five women by Gbagbo forces, noting that the victims included a 16-year-old girl and a woman who was eight months pregnant. In two cases, it said, the victims’ husbands were also murdered.
The United Nations has warned Ggagbo that anyone guilty of violating human rights rules and other international laws, including attacks on peacekeepers, will be held accountable.
Ouattara has called for an International Criminal Court investigation of the violence that broke out after a disputed November 28 election that was meant to reunite a nation still divided after a 2002-03 civil war.