Côte d'Ivoire + 2 more

ICRC Update: Côte d'Ivoire, 27 Feb 2003

Executive summary

Since the armed insurrection against the government broke out in Côte d'Ivoire on 19 September 2002, the ICRC, working together with the Red Cross Society of Côte d'Ivoire (RCSCI), has endeavoured to bring a coherent response to the many problems of humanitarian concern arising from the situation1.

Thanks to RCSCI volunteers and the ICRC presence in Abidjan, Bouaké, Korhogo and Man, the Red Cross is operational on the ground throughout the whole country. It has authorization and security guarantees from all parties involved, thereby enabling access to all persons affected by the conflict.

Red Cross activities are being carried out in two main fields:


  • the present conflict has caused a de facto split between the north of the country, which is in rebel hands, and the government-controlled south; the Red Cross maintains vital links between both parts of the country by facilitating transportation for governmental and private organizations that maintain vital services necessary to the population's survival, such as health care and the delivery of safe drinking water; since September 2002, the ICRC has organized 34 humanitarian convoys across the front lines

  • by its presence in conflict zones and visits to places of detention and health facilities on both sides of the front lines, the ICRC strives to provide the protection to which medical staff and persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in the hostilities are entitled to under international humanitarian law (IHL)

  • family members have been separated by conflict and are often without news of their loved ones; the Red Cross has set up a message distribution system and organizes family reunions for children who have been separated from their families

  • all parties to the conflict are regularly reminded of the need to respect IHL.


  • medical care has been disrupted by conflict and Red Cross doctors and nurses treat thousands of people in mobile clinics; the most serious cases are transferred to the nearest hospitals that still functioning

  • ICRC emergency supplies are used to support medical and surgical facilities which provide emergency treatment

  • solid waste is often a hazard to health; the Red Cross carries out water and sanitation work where necessary

  • vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, the indigent or the institutionalized, were often found to be cut off from previously available assistance as deliveries were interrupted due to the conflict; the Red Cross is responding by providing them with food and non-food relief.

General situation - neither war nor peace

The situation in Côte d'Ivoire remains volatile and extremely unpredictable. In September 2002, government authority was first challenged by the Mouvement patriotique de Côte d'Ivoire (MPCI) that took control of the northern part of the country, including the cities of Bouaké, Korhogo and Odiénné. In October, the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) brokered a cease-fire between the two insurgents. French and ECOWAS military forces were subsequently mobilized to monitor the cease-fire line.

Government authority was for a second time challenged when combat started in the west of the country between government forces and forces of two new opposition movements; the Mouvement populaire Ivorien de Grand Ouest (MPIGO) and the Mouvement pour la justice et la paix (MJP). The movements took control of large chunks of territory in the west, including the city of Man.

A third humanitarian challenge has now emerged along the border of Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire where there are armed groups and militia, often running rampant and committing serious atrocities. They are in fact often out of control and are challenging daily the authority of both government and rebel forces.

There are now positive signs that a negotiated end to the conflict between the insurgents and the government may be in sight after all the parties agreed to a French-brokered peace accord signed in Marcoussis, Paris on 24 January 2003.

Humanitarian situation - civilians at risk

Côte d'Ivoire

Due to the permanent presence of the RCSCI and the ICRC throughout the country since the crisis broke out in September 2002, the ICRC was able to assess, on a daily basis, the humanitarian situation on the spot. At this stage, the main humanitarian consequence of the conflict for the civilian population is economic hardship in general and, in particular, the disruption in the provision of essential services to the territory under the control of the rebels in the north and west of Côte d'Ivoire. A further deterioration with both humanitarian and economic implications cannot be excluded.

Hundreds of people have died during the five-month conflict. On many occasions, the Red Cross identified and prepared for proper burial dead bodies abandoned in streets. Hundreds of people have also been wounded and many of them did not receive any medical attention. Again, the Red Cross established mobile clinics, gave first aid treatment and evacuated the most urgent cases to nearby hospitals that were still functioning. Many military persons and civilians were arrested in connection with the conflict, and the ICRC has conducted visits to them on both sides.

Groups of civilians were compelled to flee combat and fighting. Some people became internally displaced (IDPs) by fleeing to safer places - many of them finding temporary food and lodging with relatives still living in their villages of origin. Most often, IDPs returned to their former places of residence once the acute phase of fighting had passed. The Red Cross has treated through mobile medical clinics thousands of IDPs, carried out water and sanitation work in IDP centres and provided food and non-food items to the most vulnerable who were unable to cope or found themselves without any support. The Red Cross also intervened with the belligerents, reminding them of their obligation to respect, in all circumstances, the basic rules of IHL, notably to spare and protect civilians not taking part in hostilities.


The ICRC has also been assessing the humanitarian consequences of the military-political crisis in Côte d'Ivoire in the neighbouring countries of Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. This work was carried out by the ICRC delegations of Liberia (Monrovia), Guinea (Conakry) and Senegal (Dakar).

In fact, the military-political crisis in Côte d'Ivoire had enormous spillover effects for the neighbouring countries. In addition to the economic fallout (disruption of usual economic flows, irregular access to infrastructure and trade routes due to conflict) and the resulting loss of revenue for both governments and individual households, thousand of migrants left Côte d'Ivoire and returned to their country of origin or are still in transit (often blocked or stuck) to neighbouring countries. This in turn affected already weakened health, water and sanitation infrastructures, which are stretched to capacity even in normal times.

The Red Cross Movement Response

The following activities - many of which underline the ICRC's role as neutral intermediary - were carried out from September 2002 to February 2003:

Facilitating the transport of supplies

The ICRC arranged for the transport and delivery of vaccines, other medicines, and medical and surgical supplies to health facilities, particularly in war zones. In areas inaccessible to the Ministry of Health, the ICRC regularly supplies basic medicines to more than 78 health facilities in rebel-held territory. For this purpose, the Central Pharmacy in Abidjan delivers the medical supplies to the ICRC. The ICRC also brought aid to eight facilities in government-controlled areas treating war-wounded and displaced people.

In order to ensure access to safe drinking water and to forestall major public health problems, the ICRC arranged for chemicals, spare parts and technicians from the national water board and the electrical power company to cross the front lines. A total of 63 water treatment plants in rebel-held areas received a total of some 120 metric tonnes of chemical products (lime, sulfate and hypochlorine).

Visiting detainees

In keeping with its mandate, ICRC delegates visited military personnel and civilians detained in connection with the conflict. The ICRC was given access to all places of detention under the authority of the Ministries of Defence, Justice and the Interior, and to those controlled by the MPCI and the MJP.

The objective of the visits is to ensure respect for the physical and psychological integrity of the detainees at all stages of their incarceration. Those visited are registered by the ICRC and followed individually until their release. The findings regarding the conditions of detention are conveyed confidentially to the authorities responsible. Families of persons visited by the ICRC in places of detention were informed that the visits had taken place, so as to relieve their anxiety.

Since 19 September 2002, the ICRC has registered 222 detainees within 19 places of detention under government control and 101 detainees in 4 places of detention in areas under rebel control. In addition, the ICRC had access to 12 detainees from Côte d'Ivoire detained in Burkina Faso. Amongst them, 6 policemen were liberated and repatriated by the ICRC on 13th February 2003.

In general, the military-political crisis had a negative effect on the material conditions of detention in Côte d'Ivoire. This is particularly true in the provision of food to the detainees. In Toumodi, for example, the Red Cross had to mount a nutritional programme for the benefit of detainees suffering from malnutrition. At the same time, the Red Cross made it clear to the detaining authorities that the provision of nutritionally balanced diets was under their full responsibility. Some non-food items (blankets, tarpaulins, mats, buckets and soap) were also provided to detention facilities visited by the ICRC.

Restoring family links

For family members separated by the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire, often without news of their loved ones since the crisis began, the Red Cross set up a message distribution system. In the rebel-held towns of Bouaké, Korhogo, Bouandiali, Danané, Man and Ferkessédougou, people can go to the Red Cross and write "Je me porte bien" ("I am well") cards. Some 1'500 such cards were collected and distributed to the people's families in government-controlled areas. The same system was adopted for Ivorians who found refuge in Guinea and Liberia. Some 200 messages were collected and forwarded to relatives.

Red Cross teams in reception centres for displaced people identify children separated from their families by the conflict. Nine such children were successfully reunited with their families after appeals (with photographs) were broadcast on television.

The Red Cross also accepted tracing requests for elderly and sick people, living alone in conflict zones, and the ICRC handled protection requests for people considered by their relatives to be in danger. Since 9 September 2002, more than 400 such requests have been treated.

Promoting international humanitarian law (IHL)

The parties to the conflict recognize the applicability of IHL - Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Additional Protocol II as well as the rules of international customary law. In its capacity as custodian and promoter of IHL, the ICRC has reminded the parties to the conflict of the rules and obligations of humanitarian law.

Following initial fighting and certain excesses, the ICRC launched three IHL appeals through the press during the last quarter of 2002. The ICRC was also able to secure the services of well-known performers from west Africa -- Kajeem, Don Mike, Mawa Traoré and Pat Saco of Côte d'Ivoire, Assy Kiwah of Benin, Dama Damawuzan of Togo and Sonia Carré d'As of Burkina Faso -- to sing songs around the themes of IHL. These songs, together with video clips, are widely broadcasted on radio and television in both government and rebel-controlled areas.

The ICRC also actively participates during the training of arms bearers in the practical application of IHL during and after combat. Since the beginning of the crisis, more than 2000 new recruits to the armed forces have participated in such training.

Upon invitation, the ICRC attended, as an observer and as an advisor on humanitarian aspects, to the peace talks held in Marcoussis on 24 January 2003.

Providing medical assistance

Red Cross doctors and nurses treated people in mobile clinics in Bouaké (approximately 10,000 consultations in all) and the reception centre for IDPs in Daloa (about 1500 consultations). At the health centre located in the ICRC office in Man, some 6000 wounded and sick were treated. The most urgent cases in need of surgical care were evacuated to hospitals still functioning. During February 2003, as other health facilities became operational in Man, the ICRC closed this health centre. In Duékoué, on the western front, the Red Cross provided medical care for thousands of IDPs. Trained volunteers of the Red Cross also delivered first aid to hundreds of wounded civilians and combatants during acute military fighting, inter-ethnic violence and mass demonstrations.

ICRC emergency supplies pre-positioned in Abidjan, Bouaké, Korhogo and Man were used to support medical and surgical facilities that were providing emergency treatment.

Maintaining water and sanitation services

In the wake of the fighting, particularly in Bouaké and Man, Red Cross teams helped to collect and identify corpses left in the street. Also in Bouaké and Man, and in order to diminish public health hazards, the Red Cross helped to remove solid waste and garbage. Each week, some 40 metric tonnes of waste has been loaded onto rented trucks and moved to public rubbish dumps located on the outskirts of the cities.

The Red Cross also carried out water and sanitation work in IDP centres near Yamoussoukro, Duékoué and Daloa, the objective being to improve hygienic conditions and to ensure access to safe drinking water. Red Cross teams have so far disinfected some fifty water wells in the region of Daloa and built 11 hygienic blocks - each including toilets, showers and a septic tank - in Yamoussoukro, Douékoué and Bonoufla. Finally, in the regional hospital of Daloa, the sanitary area of the surgical theatre has been rehabilitated.

Delivering food and other relief

Vulnerable people such as the sick, the elderly, orphans and the destitute in rebel-held territory suffer particularly from the effects of infrequent food deliveries which are due to normal supply routes being disrupted because of the conflict. The Red Cross therefore delivered to some 40 social and medical institutions (such as hospitals, orphanages and leprosaria), food provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Cellule de solidarité et action humanitaire. The Red Cross, through the NGO's Centre National Islamique and the Evêchés, also provided food to the most vulnerable people in the poorest neighbourhoods of Bouaké, Korhogo and Daloa. Finally, some 4500 migrants from Burkina Faso, displaced in Duékoué after inter-communal violence, received 3 months food assistance.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, the Red cross also distributed food (Food for Work) to staff in facilities providing vital services, such as health care and the delivery of water and electricity, in order to encourage them to stay and carry on with their work in the conflict zone.

In Tabou and San Pedro, close to the southwestern front, the local Red Cross prepares some 500 hot meals every day for IDPs in transit. In Bouaké, this same service is provided to some 100 to 150 patients a day at the University Hospital.

In all, over 150,000 people received food aid through the Red Cross amounting to some 200 metric tonnes of rice, fish, oil, salt and sugar.

Some 10,000 displaced people were given relief items such as tarpaulins, mats, buckets, soap and blankets. The beneficiaries included some 2000 evicted slum dwellers spread out over eight sites in Abidjan, 4500 displaced in Duékoué, 400 each in Daloa and Man as well as displaced people transiting through the Catholic missions in M'bahiakro, Didiévi and Yamoussoukro.

Response in the sub-region

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies coordinates the overall Red Cross action concerning the return of migrants to Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. In Liberia and Guinea, the ICRC has the leading role in relation to the Movement's response and therefore coordinates all humanitarian activities benefiting returnees in these two countries.

Since September last year, some 70,000 people (including, returnees from Guinea, refugees from Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, and people in transit from countries such as Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso) arrived in Guinea. The Red Cross Society of Guinea (RCSG), with the support of the ICRC and the Federation, provided the necessary assistance at the immediate point of entry on the border and until these people reached government-run transit sites. Some 160 RCSG workers are active at around 20 places in assisting new arrivals, particularly with non-food assistance.

Similar to the situation in Guinea, there were also many new arrivals in Liberia. In addition to continuing and reinforcing its tracing activities at the border area, the ICRC will continue to assess other humanitarian needs in close cooperation with the UNHCR. The ICRC is about to open an office in Zwedru to assess the situation and to prepare its response accordingly. Special attention will be given to protection, for the benefit of vulnerable people stuck in the area.

Cooperation and coordination

The ICRC has been coordinating the response to the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire on behalf of the other components of the Movement. Regular meetings are held between the RCSCI, the Federation and the ICRC in order to guarantee effective coordination of the humanitarian operation and the most efficient use of resources.

Presence and personnel

The ICRC manages its humanitarian activities out of its main delegation in Abidjan and through its offices in Bouaké, Korhogo and Man. By mid-February 2003, 19 expatriates and 92 national staff were working directly for the humanitarian action in Côte d'Ivoire. In addition, the ICRC coordinates and finances the activities of some 100 volunteers and professionals from the RCSCI, itself composed of a network of 41 local committees active in different regions of the country. Some 65 persons employed by the RCSCI and working within structures providing vital services are supported with food rations (Food for Work). In total, therefore, some 276 persons work for the Red Cross operation in Côte d'Ivoire.

Other ongoing activities by the ICRC's Regional Delegation in Abidjan
(also covering Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo)

As described on pages 95/98 of the ICRC Emergency Appeals 2003, while responding and adapting to the current emergency, ICRC objectives in the countries remain unchanged:

  • to monitor events in regions prone to conflict and/or inter-communal violence

  • to support the efforts of the region's authorities and armed and security forces to implement IHL and to raise awareness among the armed forces of the need to respect the rules of IHL

  • to make the general public aware of the activities of the Movement, its fundamental principles and the basic rules of IHL

  • to support the development of the region's National Societies' tracing, emergency preparedness, communication and dissemination capacities.

  • to enable refugees reestablish and/or maintain family links.


1 For the purposes of simplicity, we will refer to the joint actions of the ICRC with the Red Cross Society of Cote d'Ivoire as 'Red Cross' activities throughout this document.

Geneva, 27 February 2003