Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ivory Coast: racial and religious hatred empowered and unleashed


The legacy of French and NATO intervention in Ivory Coast -- where the West intervened on behalf of Islamists in order to advance their own economic interests -- is that Ivory Coast 's predominantly Christian southern tribes must now live with serious insecurity in an increasingly militarised yet lawless state where Muslim soldiers may abuse them at will and with impunity.  This is racial and religious hatred empowered and unleashed.

------------------------
Brief background

Ivory Coast held elections in December 2010, despite the fact that pre-conditions had not been met. For starters, northern-Muslim rebel forces loyal to Muslim presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara refused to disarm; a fact that meant the electoral process in the north could hardly be free and fair.  (How ironic that Bafétigué Ouattera (Côte d’Ivoire) has just been elected as a Vice-Chair of the UN's Disarmament Commission.) 

After the Constitutional Council investigated all reported irregularities (as mandated by the constitution) it ruled that the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo -- a southerner and observant Christian -- was the victor. However, before it could even announce its ruling, pro-Ouattara elements pre-empted the constitutional council's decision and broadcast via French TV from Ouattara's headquarters that Ouattara had won the election. The illegal announcement was met favourably in the West as a Ouattara presidency would serve French and US economic interests.

Confident of Western backing, Ouattara then moved to seize power through military violence. Up against the mighty army of the Ivorian secular State, the pro-Ouattara ethnic and Islamic rebels were the weaker force. The violent coup d'état coup was only successful due to NATO air-strikes and military assistance from France.

Having seized power through violence and with foreign assistance, it is no surprise to learn that Ouattara's hold on power is dependent on violence and terror.

For further background and analysis on Ivory Coast: see Religious Liberty Monitoring.

Death in Abidjan

On Monday 6 August, gunmen -- presumed to be Gbagbo loyalists -- killed six soldiers in a pre-dawn attack on the Akouédo military base in Abidjan. A day earlier, gunmen attacked a police station in Yopougon neighbourhood, on the other side of Abidjan, killing four soldiers. Gbagbo's political party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), issued a statement condemning "with the utmost vigour this wave of deadly violence", while also calling on the government to capture the attackers.

Response

In response, President Alassane Ouattara ordered the Republican Forces (FRCI: the new Ivorian Army, incorporating the former Forces Nouvelles rebels) to "fight without mercy" those attempting to create a feeling of insecurity in Ivory Coast. Consequently, there has been a surge in appalling human rights abuses targeting "perceived Gbagbo loyalists": i.e. predominantly Christian southerners, mostly ethnic Bété, Guéré, Ebrié, Oubi and Adioukrou. The abuses involve mass arrests, extortion and extreme violence, including torture.

See: Ivory Coast: Ex-detainees describe torture by military following roundup after attacks
By Robbie Corey-Boulet, The Associated Press, 4 October 2012

Excerpts:

The soldiers lined up the detainees in a row on the grass in the middle of the night and beat them with sticks. Other times, soldiers struck the prisoners with belts and rifles so hard the welts lasted for weeks.

Cedric Bao, a 33-year-old who was held for two weeks in August on suspicion of hiding weapons, said soldiers also attached wires to detainees and administered electrical shocks as they writhed on the ground.

"When that happened, the wires would produce a lot of noise, and the lights would flicker, and it would smell like burning. We could hear the people shouting," Bao said. "I was always praying to God not to be brought downstairs."

. . . While torture allegations have been documented at multiple military facilities, the U.N. officials said that some of the worst came from detainees at the San Pedro camp, including credible reports of electrical shocks.

Few detainees in the city had spoken up about their experiences at the camp because of threats they received before being released, said Serges Dagbo, San Pedro representative for the Ivorian Human Rights League.

But in recent interviews with The Associated Press, four former detainees described harsh conditions marked by cramped quarters, minimal food and the frequent use of violence to extract confessions. . .

-------------

On 19 November, Human Rights Watch released a report exposing the gross human rights abuses being committed by the Republican Forces (FRCI), including: arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, inhuman treatment and torture.

See: Ivory Coast military accused of torture during 'reprisal' crackdown
Hope of reconciliation after civil war fades amid claims of inhuman treatment of perceived Gbagbo loyalists

By David Smith, Africa correspondent, The Guardian, 19 Nov 2012.

Excerpts:

In August, members of the government's Republican Forces carried out mass arrests of perceived Gbagbo supporters almost daily in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Yopougon, Human Rights Watch said. "Without arrest warrants or individualised evidence, soldiers arbitrarily arrested young men in their homes, at neighbourhood restaurants, at bars, in taxis and buses, as they walked home from church, and at traditional community celebrations.

"Soldiers often arrived in neighbourhoods in military cargo trucks and forced 20 or more perceived pro-Gbagbo youth to board. Hundreds of young men appear to have been rounded up and detained, largely on the basis of their ethnicity and place of residence. Those arrested were often brought to military camps, which are not lawful detention sites for civilians under Ivorian law."

. . . In August and September, the commander in charge of one detainment camp was Ousmane Coulibaly, better known as "Bin Laden", Human Rights Watch said. In a previous report on the post-election violence, it had named him as one of the Republican Forces commanders whose soldiers committed acts of torture and dozens of summary executions during the final [France and NATO-backed] battle for Abidjan in April and May 2011.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT
A Long Way from Reconciliation
Abusive Military Crackdown in Response to Security Threats in Côte d’Ivoire
19 November 2012  (79 pages)

Excerpts:

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight former detainees at the [Adjamé] military police camp, five of whom provided detailed evidence suggesting that they had been victims of torture. . . with the purpose of demanding answers to questions about the location of guns or alleged suspects, or in order to pressure the detainee to sign a confession of involvement in an attack against state security. (p25)

They also described seeing other detainees come back to the cell with bruised faces, severe swelling, and open wounds. Detainees at the military police camp also described suffering grossly inadequate detention conditions, including severe overcrowding, near complete denial of food and water, and humiliating practices like being placed in a room filled with excrement. (p26)

The former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch were all young men from ethnic groups perceived to support Laurent Gbagbo. They described their detention rooms as being full with people from the same ethnic groups, including the Bété, Guéré, Ebrié, Oubi, and Adioukrou. . .  many young men were picked up during mass arrests in areas with a concentration of perceived Gbagbo supporters. (p26)

In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, severe physical pain appeared to be inflicted by state agents, namely military personnel, in order to pressure people into a confession or to divulge information about the location of weapons. Torture did not appear to be systematic, as other detainees described only minimal physical abuse. However, the cases documented by Human Rights Watch raise concerns about the total number of potential victims. (p29)

In addition, Human Rights Watch received credible information about recent cases of torture against detainees held in a Republican Forces military base in San Pedro, a town in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire about 350 kilometers from Abidjan.  On October 4, the Associated Press reported [see above] that soldiers at the San Pedro military camp had subjected at least four civilian detainees to electric shock, finding that “long wires were attached to their feet, midsections and necks before electrical shocks were administered.” (p34)

Human Rights Watch describes the crackdown as "unlike any since the end of the post-election crisis". (p37)

A diplomat from a key partner to Côte d’Ivoire told Human Rights Watch that there were deep concerns about how Ivorian authorities had framed the issue: “The language they use is very concerning: ‘eradication,’ ‘terrorism,’ ‘clean the country up’. (p 37)

Youths rounded up en masse in Yopougon report being separated according to their ethnic group. On a daily basis, masses of youths belonging to southern (normally pro-Gbagbo) tribes were trucked to the BAE (Brigade anti-émeute, or anti-riot unit) police camp where they were punished mercilessly and extorted. (see page 39)

A Ouattara supporter who lives near the BAE camp told Human Rights Watch, “You wouldn’t believe the things we see there each day. [There are] always youth being trucked in, being beaten. They don’t even hide [the abuses]; it’s often in plain view. [The FRCI there] aren’t afraid of any consequences.” An Ivorian civil society leader agreed: “[The soldiers implicated in abuses] are at ease. They don’t fear anything, and that’s the most dangerous thing: the complete impunity.” (p 40-41)

Human Rights Watch interviewed Yopougon residents who were arrested in their homes, while eating at a maquis, with friends at a bar, when walking home from church, when in a taxi or a bus, and when attending a funeral. (p 41)

Nearly all of those interviewed described the widespread commission of criminal acts by members of the FRCI in Yopougon. These crimes were perpetrated first during the process of neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests, when soldiers stole cash and valuables such as cell phones, computers, and jewelry from people’s homes and off people being arrested; and second, by demanding money in order to secure a detainee’s release. The mass arrests appear to have been a financial boon for members of the Republican Forces based at the BAE camp, and a crippling hardship to those who were swept up because of their age and perceived political affiliation. (p 46)

Since the end of the post-election crisis, the Republican Forces and armed “volunteers” [including dozos: see here and here] loyal to them have unlawfully taken over many functions that the police and gendarmes are legally mandated to do . . . (p 56)

Several victims of arbitrary arrest or detention told Human Rights Watch that police officers or gendarmes tried to intervene on their behalf and stop abuses. . .  A youth arrested while walking home from a church function on August 25 described how police kept him from being detained and upbraided soldiers who had stolen dozens of cell phones from those arrested (p 57) "God thankfully made that there was a police officer nearby," he said (p 58)

The HRW report also notes that after being arbitrarily arrested and beaten senseless for a week, men are then extorted, forced to pay in order to be released rather than killed. Towards the end of the report there are testimonies from women who testify to being arbitrarily arrested and then told that their male relatives will released if they (the women) have sex with the soldiers.

---------------------

In an unrelated article, Associated Press reports on the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center's findings, that continuing conflicts over land have caused at least another 24,000 Ivorians to become displaced so far this year (i.e. by Nov 2012).
[for an example, see Ivory Coast: Thousands displaced in renewed terror
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 172, Wed 15 Aug 2012]

That figure is in addition to the 40,000 to 80,000 who remain displaced from the March-April 2011 hostilities.

According to the report, "armed men have prevented displaced persons from accessing their land, sometimes imposing 'arbitrary taxes on those wishing to return'."

Are these "arbitrary taxes" simple criminal extortion, or jizya (Islamic, sacralised extortion of the dhimmi, as mandated by the Qur'an in Sura 9:29)? And why is it being allowed? The fact is, lawless Ivory Coast is awash with illegal weapons.

On 5 Dec, UN Watch issued a statement entitled, Despite Military Atrocities, Ivory Coast Elected as UN Disarmament Commission Vice-Chair, in which it called for the move to be reversed.