By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), up to one million people have fled the escalating violence in Ivory Coast. The UNHCR, along with other aid agencies, has not been able to access the western part of Ivory Coast due to increasing violence. Additionally, the United Nations Human Rights Council is sending a commission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.
The number of refugees trying to escape the violence in Ivory Coast, and in particular the city of Abidjan, has nearly double over the past two weeks. The most recent report from UNHCR claims the number of refugees has increased from half a million up to one million people. Specifically, the UNHCR has warned that somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people have fled their homes since the November election.
Violent clashes are taking place between forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect. Much of the heavy fighting is occurring in and around the city of Abidjan. Consequently, most of the refugees being displaced are also from Abidjan. The UNHCR has noted heavily populated neighborhoods such as Abodo, Adjamame, Willaimsville and Yopougon have seen many of their residents leave as violent clashes have intensified.
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a UNHCR spokeswoman for Africa, said her agency is finding new pockets of displaced people in Abidjan on a daily basis. UNHCR believes refugees are fleeing Abidjan for the more peaceful northern, central, and eastern regions of the country.
Further complicating this situation are reports that Liberian militiamen have been crossing the western border of Ivory Coast to loot, rape, and kill. The UNHCR does not believe these mercenaries are an extension of the Liberian government but simply groups of armed men who are taking advantage of the chaos in Ivory Coast. Aid agencies have curtailed operations in the western region of Guiglo because law and order has broken down and the police force is not operating. In one incident, the UNHCR claims that English-speaking mercenaries, likely Liberians, looted a warehouse and office complex making off with supplies, office furniture, and pick-up trucks.
The United Nation Human Rights Council is sending a delegation to Ivory Coast to investigate post-election violence. Specifically, the Council has approved a request to establish a Commission of Inquiry that will look into allegations of human rights abuses that have taken place since the November 28th election. According to Human Rights Watch Director Julie de Rivero, the situation in Ivory Coast includes a “steady crescendo of abuses including targeted killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated rape, and indiscriminate shelling.” De Rivero also notes the actions of the Council in “establishing a Commission of Inquiry for Cote d’Ivoire sends a strong signal to all parties to the conflict that they will be held accountable for their actions.”
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera — UN: One million flee Cote d’Ivoire violence – 25 March 2011
AOL News — ‘Humanitarian Tragedy’ Unfolding in Ivory Coast – 25 March 2011
BBC — Ivory Coast: One million refugees feared, UNHCR says –25 March 2011
Bloomberg – UN Human Rights Council to Send Commission to Ivory Coast – 25 March 2011
BusinessWeek — Ivory Coast Unrest Forces Up to 1 Million to Flee, UN Says – 25 March 2011
Human Rights Watch – UN: Rights Body Acts Decisively on Iran, Cote d’Ivoire – 25 March 2011
Voice of America — UN: One Million Flee Ivory Coast Violence as Crisis Deepens – 25 March 2011
Zee News — Liberian mercenaries ‘loot, rape, kill’ in Ivory Coast – 26 March 2011