New York — Forces loyal to Ivorian President Alessane Ouattara have carried out indiscriminate torture, rape, extrajudicial killings, and other acts of violence and abuse, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch.
Purportedly carried out in retaliation against members of forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo, these abuses and killings were found instead to have been carried out against civilians or unarmed people and were often based upon one's ethnic affiliation or which presidential candidate the victim supposedly backed.
In a report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch said that since mid-April, when armed forces loyal to Ouattara, known as the Republican Forces, managed to gain control of the capital city of Abidjan, these forces have killed at least 149 of Gbagbo's "real or perceived" supporters.
The majority of the killings documented by Human Rights Watch were in the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan, which is known as a Gbagbo stronghold.
Following Ouattara's victory in the Ivorian presidential elections last November, former president Gbagbo refused to step down. Violent clashes and fighting ensued, and forces loyal to both Ouattara and Gbagbo continued the abuses and killings even after Gbagbo was arrested on Apr. 11.
"Some of the abuses actually took place after Gbagbo was arrested," Rona Piligal, deputy director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS. "Some of the abuses took place... after Ouattara was inaugurated."
To her knowledge, the killings and abuses have continued through last week.
Human Rights Watch has called for the Ouattara government to place commanders against whom there is credible evidence of implication in killings, torture, or other severe abuse on immediate administrative leave, pending investigation.
Brutality on both sides
The report drew on over 130 interviews with victims of and witnesses to the violence. In comparison to the 149 killed by pro-Ouattara forces, forces loyal to Gbagbo killed at least 220 people before and after Gbagbo's April arrest.
"They turned to me and asked my ethnic group," recounted one victim in the report. "They then came back to me and said I was militia. They beat me with their guns, with their fists. They kept demanding that I say that I was militia, that they'd only stop if I said so... It didn't seem to make sense who they killed and who they took," he added.
Elsewhere in the report, one member of the Republican Forces, who was present at the execution of detainees, described what he had witnessed, as well as the nonexistent selection process for choosing victims.
"I promise you that no one can say what crime these men had committed. They were arrested simply because they had an appearance that showed them as suspects of either being militiamen or those that tell the militia about our movements," he said.
In addition to indiscriminate violence and executions, other accounts shared horrific tales of rape, torture, looting, arbitrary detainments, and other forms of inhumane treatment, by forces loyal to both sides.
Particularly alarming is the fact that they were indiscriminate in their abuse, and that civilians became victims. In Yopougon, "there were civilians who were targeted simply because that was an area where Gbagbo had drawn support," Peligal told IPS. "But as it turns out, many of the militias that had been based in Yopougon had already left."
Ultimately, "it was civilians that paid the price for abuses committed by others," she said.
Political implicationsPresident Ouattara's administration has pledged to investigate the violence and abuses, and to prosecute those responsible, said Peligal. Still, "We haven't yet seen any action on their part," she added.
Currently, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is conducting an investigation into the violence, and the United Nations is conducting an inquiry.
Whether Ouattara will live up to his promises remains to be seen, but keeping those promises will be crucial for his presidency and the coming months in Cote d'Ivoire.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the report, "The hope of a new era following President Ouattara's inauguration will fade fast unless these horrible abuses against pro-Gbagbo groups stop immediately", and Ouattara keeps his promises of investigating the abuses and prosecuting those responsible.
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein
Drawing the line in Liberia
Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah
Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause
They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!! When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.
If Liberia must move forward ...
If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah
Liberia's greatest problem!
While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah
What do I think should be done?
The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented. Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah
Liberia's Natural Resources Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted. Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah
Liberia needs a proper system If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah
Solving problems in the absence of war talks
As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truth – Bernard Gbayee Goah
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