6513th Meeting (AM)
UN Relief Coordinator Says Humanitarian Situation Still ‘Deeply Troubling;’ UN Human Rights Commissioner, Côte d’Ivoire’s Representative Also Address Council
Critical challenges in Côte d’Ivoire following the surrender of recalcitrant former President Laurent Gbagbo — whose greed brought on an utterly unnecessary four-month, post-electoral crisis — included restoration of order, prevention of further human rights abuses, national reconciliation and rebuilding and completion of the peace process, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General told the Security Council this morning.
“I remain hopeful: the Ivorian people organized one of the most impressive elections, they succeeded largely by themselves in resolving the post-electoral crisis which allowed for the will of the people to prevail and now they will march forward toward national reconciliation and reconstruction with the assistance of the international community,” Choi Young-Jin, who is also the head of the United Nations Operation in the Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), said.
Mr. Choi was joined in this morning’s briefing by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Youssoufou Bamba, representative of Côte d’Ivoire.
“Eleven April 2011 must be remembered as the end of a demagogic and Orwellian perversion by a regime that tried to cling to power by military means, bringing about serious pains and damages to Côte d’Ivoire,” Mr. Choi said, paying tribute to the French Licorne Forces and the UNOCI personnel that they supported.
Within the priority challenges facing President Ouattara, he said, short-term measures to be taken urgently included the organization of the Government, as many important posts needed to be filled. In addition, the completion of programmes for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and security sector reform, a crucial part of the peace process that ended the 2003 civil war, had to be completed as a large quantity of weapons and an equally large number of former combatants remained at large.
Immediately connected to that, he said, was reunification of the country’s territory and the extension of State authority to the northern part of the country, as well as the centralization of the treasury. In addition, the organization of the legislative elections would mark the real end of the post-electoral crisis, by creating an active, national democratic parliament.
He pledged that UNOCI was ready to provide its support and assistance in all those tasks. In the meantime, the mission was focusing on the re-establishment of a secure environment, collecting weapons and disarming surrendering ex-combatants, securing vital lifelines and strategic installations and protecting civilians, including Mr. Gbagbo’s entourage, against reprisals, in addition to documenting human rights violations and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Briefing the Council on matters under her remit as the Organization’s top humanitarian official, including findings from her mission last week to Man and Duékoué, in Côte d’Ivoire, and Monrovia and Grand Gedeh County in Liberia, Ms. Amos said that, despite Gbagbo’s arrest, “the humanitarian situation remains deeply troubling”. The crisis in Côte d’Ivoire had far-reaching effects in the region, which would not subside without significant and sustained effort from the humanitarian community.
On civilian protection, she said that at least 225 people in Duékoué had been killed in a massacre between 28 and 29 March, during which grave violations of international law had taken place. “People told me harrowing stories about the executions and kidnappings that occurred,” she said, adding that more than 27,000 people had been forced to find refuge in the local Catholic mission, and another thousand had fled to another site in the city. Some had walked hundreds of kilometres through the bush to reach relative safety. The camp existed, she said, because of the heroism of the Pastor of the mission. It was being protected by United Nations peacekeepers, whose commitment to their mission was commendable, and “their focus on the protection of civilians has saved many lives”.
She went on to note that mass killings had taken place in several other towns and villages in the west of the country; those in addition to the widespread and indiscriminate attacks in Abidjan, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. Sexual violence had been perpetrated against women and children, she said, and human rights investigations were ongoing and the commission of inquiry requested by the Human Rights Council would deploy soon. “It is vital that those responsible are held accountable for the crimes they have committed,” she said. “There can be no culture of impunity.”
As for Côte d’Ivoire’s main city, Abidjan, she said many of its 5 million inhabitants were in crisis. Sporadic violence was still being reported, many families were without food and were trapped in their homes “too afraid of the militias and the fighting to leave”. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had already registered more than 130,000 displaced persons in Abidjan. She said that entire neighbourhoods had been without electricity and water for weeks, raising concerns that cholera, which was already present in Côte d’Ivoire, could spread further. Food was difficult to find in the markets and shops, and prices were steadily rising.
She said the World Food Programme (WFP) had warned that malnutrition levels throughout the country were rising. Many hospitals and health facilities had been unable to operate properly and were lacking essentials. Schools had been closed for months, leaving more than 800,000 children without access to education. She also noted that communities in the centre and north were struggling due to the influx of some 800,000 internally displaced persons. Much of the population, in addition, was “immensely traumatized”.
She said the United Nations humanitarian response had so far been severely impeded by the security situation. Immediately after Mr. Gbagbo’s arrest, however, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had been able to make a delivery of medical supplies to Abidjan. As soon as security permitted, it would be essential for more aid workers to get into all areas of the city, and for humanitarian organizations to strengthen their presence where they were most needed. She said that the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team had arrived in Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen humanitarian assessment, operations and coordination for the ongoing relief effort. She also noted that outside Abidjan, the WFP was planning more airlifts in the coming days for the benefit of the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons.
She said that the humanitarian community had launched two emergency action plans in January to raise funds for the humanitarian response in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. Both appeals had been revised to reflect the great increases of need. Overall, it was estimated that around $300 million was needed to cover priorities. As of today, $57 million has been committed by donors — only 15 per cent of what was needed. “We need to continue to make every effort to ensure that assistance is coordinated and provided in as coherent a way as possible. The people of Côte d’Ivoire deserve our support.”
Ms. Pillay agreed that the recent arrest of the former President opened the prospect of an end to the conflict, but it was crucial for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Côte d’Ivoire to be addressed, lest they serve as cause for further destabilization. Immediate action in that regard was required to build public confidence in the rule of law, ensure that justice was done, reconciliation achieved, impunity ended and victims rehabilitated.
From 2 to 9 April, she said her office conducted a mission to the country, led by Assistant-Secretary-General Ivan Šimonović, to assess the human rights situation, remind all parties of their obligations and promote bringing perpetrators to justice. Meeting were held with President Ouattara, other officials, victims and witness. Evidence was found of large-scale human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence.
ONUCI’s Human Rights Division, she said, estimated that at least 400 people were killed in Abidjan alone between the first round of elections and the entry of the Forces Republicaines into the city. Residents of the city were prevented from venturing outside, leaving them short of necessities. Many were directly targeted by “uncontrolled armed elements”, often with heavy weapons. Extended looting contributed to the insecurity and fear. A human rights call centre, established by the Human Rights Division, registered more than 12,000 calls, and proved to be a necessary link to the population.
Towns in the west of the country reportedly experienced large-scale killings from the second half of March, leading to a total displacement of at least 28,000 people from Duékoué alone. Preliminary investigations suggested that at least 500 people were killed in the region, with 229 bodies found in Duékoué’s Carrefour neighbourhood, known as the stronghold of pro-Gbagbo militia from the Guere community. While additional investigation was needed, the area was known for ethnic and inter-communal tensions over land, had changed hands from pro-Gbagbo to pro-Ouattara forces, and killings and acts of retaliation were reported on both sides, sometimes with the involvement of the local population.
She welcomed President Ouattara’s pledge on 7 April to establish a truth and reconciliation commission and punish those who committed crimes. She added that transitional justice processes must be comprehensive and interconnected, including meaningful accountability such as prosecutions and vetting. Her Office stood ready to assist the new Government in that effort. She stressed that, regardless of their affiliations, perpetrators must be held accountable and treated according to international law. She also stressed the need to rebuild social cohesion and foster reconciliation between communities with the support of the international community.
Expressing the hope that the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council for Côte d’Ivoire would receive full cooperation, she noted that three high-level appointments were made for the Commission yesterday and that the Commission was due to report to the Council in June. She concluded by suggesting that Côte d’Ivoire “is another striking example of the inextricable link between, peace, justice and human rights”. Rights, justice and accountability would bolster the prospect for sustainable peace, an outcome to which the people of Côte d’Ivoire were entitled. They deserved full international support.
Ambassador Bamba said that the post-electoral crisis sparked by Gbagbo’s “refusal to respect the ballot box” had turned around after his arrest, with all generals and military officials subsequently swearing allegiance to Mr. Ouatarra’s administration. On behalf of the new Government, he paid tribute to the Security Council for responding to the distress call of Ivorian civilians. He also paid tribute to the Secretary-General and other officials for their unwavering support.
He said that Mr. Ouattara had given orders to restore public order immediately and demanded that all belligerents lay down their arms. Among other things, that meant that humanitarian corridors and public throughways would be reopening and that gendarmerie centres, police commissariats and other centres would soon be manned and fully operational. The re-establishment of water and electricity services in Abidjan and elsewhere was allowing medical facilities and health centres to re-open. Also, efforts to secure areas around the airport in Abidjan would allow for delivery of larger shipments of humanitarian aid. The new Government was also monitoring the health situation of the broader population. He added that displaced were going back home.
He said the new Government would also have to try to overcome years of nefarious and damaging activities carried out by Mr. Gbagbo and those loyal to him. They had tried to impose his reign through terror and intimidation, tearing the country apart. Mercenaries associated with politicians in Mr. Gbagbo’s party had ignited hatred and inter-ethnic conflict. Mr. Ouattara’s Forces Republicaines had subdued those mercenaries, allowing the return of UNOCI and humanitarian workers to parts of the country. Nevertheless, the new Government was aware of the damage Mr. Gbagbo’s forces had wrought and was deeply concerned by the grave human rights violations that had occurred. He ensured the Council that the new Government believed that no crimes should go unpunished.
In that regard, President Ouattara had initiated an investigation to ensure that perpetrators would be brought to justice and had called for the quick establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to “mend the fabric of a country torn by 10 years of civil conflict”. He had also pledged to bring all stakeholders together, including those of once-rival parties, to launch the massive reconstruction efforts needed. One of the ultimate aims was to ensure that UNOCI was transformed from a peacekeeping to a peacebuilding operation. He was pleased to note that assistance to his country had again begun flowing, and he called on all traditional development partners, as well as those who might begin such cooperation, to help give substance to the hope prompted by the emergence of democracy in Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting, which began at 10:15 a.m. closed at 10:55 a.m.
The Council had before it the twenty-seventh progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (document S/2011/211), issued 30 March, covering major developments between the previous report of 23 November 2010 (document S/2010/600) and late March. The report includes a detailed description of the conduct of the run-off election between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara held on 28 November and clarifies issues related to the subsequent certification of Mr. Ouattara’s victory by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the rejection of that decision by Mr. Gbagbo. The Secretary-General stresses that the certification mandate of the United Nations was put in place voluntarily by the Ivorians themselves, as an additional safeguard to guarantee the credibility of the elections.
In the report, the Secretary-General commends the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union for taking a firm and principled stand on the outcome of the elections, welcoming also the endorsement of that position by the Security Council and the “prompt and firm” support of Member States for the democratic process in Côte d’Ivoire throughout the crisis. Noting that violations of human rights are being investigated by the United Nations Operation, known as UNOCI, he welcomes the work of other international and national organizations in documenting those violations, as well as the establishment of the commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council. He urges the Security Council and the wider human rights community to take strong measures to address impunity in the country.
Aside from the post-electoral crisis, he says, the unfinished aspects of the peace process require concerted attention, including the holding of legislative elections, the promotion of national reconciliation, the reunification of the country, the disarmament of former combatants, the dismantling of militias, the reunification of the Armed Forces and the restoration of State authority throughout the country’s territory. He states that President Ouattara and his Government will require the steadfast support of the international community in those areas and he pledges that the United Nations will stand firm in its commitment.
Noting that UNOCI had to overcome many serious challenges throughout the crisis, he reiterates that intentional and direct attacks on peacekeepers constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute and are subject to prosecution as such. He commends the Mission on its achievements and expresses gratitude to the Security Council for its timely action to reinforce it during the crisis. He stresses that UNOCI remains critical for the stability of Côte d’Ivoire and the subregion and for support to President Ouattara in planning not only for the unfinished aspects of the peace process, but also for the development of the country.
For information media • not an official record