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Côte d’Ivoire: UN urges restraint amid reports of abuses by pro-Ouattara forces

The United Nations human rights office today urged forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally-recognized president of Côte d’Ivoire, to show restraint after reports suggested they have been committing serious rights violations during their advance towards the country’s commercial capital of Abidjan.

Troops supporting Mr. Ouattara reportedly appear poised for a final push to oust Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step aside following his defeat in the UN-certified presidential election held in November.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a news conference in Geneva of having received “unconfirmed but worrying” reports of human rights violations committed by the pro-Ouattara group known as Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) during their advance towards Abidjan.

“Reports suggest they have engaged in looting and extortion, as well as serious human rights violations such as abductions, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of civilians,” he stated.

The Invisible Commando group, which has been fighting against the forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, is also reported to have continued to commit abuses inside Abidjan, he added.

Meanwhile, pro-Gbagbo forces have also continued to commit violations on a daily basis, including the killing of two civilians who were reportedly burnt alive by pro-Gbagbo militiamen in Gagnoa, Mr. Colville noted.

OHCHR also announced that Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic will arrive in Côte d’Ivoire tomorrow on a week-long mission during which he will visit different regions and meet with leaders of the parties to remind them of their obligations to protect civilians and to observe human rights and humanitarian law.

“There has been too much bloodshed, including hundreds of civilians killed or wounded,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

Speaking to reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where his is on an official visit, Mr. Ban renewed his call on Mr. Gbagbo to step down to avoid further violence, and transfer power immediately to Mr. Ouattara.

“I once again urge all parties – let me repeat all parties – to exercise restraint. I would remind all those who commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws that they will be held accountable.”

Also warning of the serious human rights violations taking place in Côte d’Ivoire, a group of independent UN rights experts today called on all parties to spare civilians and stop the abuses, which include enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, killing and maiming of children, and sexual violence.

They also welcomed the establishment by the UN Human Rights Council of an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged abuses and rights violations.

Nearly 500 people are confirmed to have died as a result of the post-election violence, which has also displaced up to 1 million people, many of whom have fled to neighbouring countries.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that surging violence in Côte d’Ivoire is pushing more refugees eastwards into Ghana, with over 1,500 Ivorians entering the country this week after fleeing fresh fighting in their country.

“Several of the refugee families told UNHCR they fled due to fear of violence while some had witnessed or experienced violence in their communities,” Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the agency, told the same news conference in Geneva.

Most refugees in Ghana are currently accommodated in host communities. Some 1,700 of them are also staying in a new camp set up by UNHCR and the Ghanaian authorities in Ampain, 55 kilometres from the Elubo border point.

This week’s wave of arrivals brings to over 5,000 the estimated number of Ivorian refugees now in Ghana. The number of Ivorians seeking refuge in Liberia continues to rise as well, adding to the more than 150,000 that have been registered there since the crisis began in late November.

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