Ivory Coast: Human Rights Watch Documents Massacres of Civilians

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A terrific video for TIME by Peter di Campo shines a light on the massacres that took place in the Ivory Coast this past year, as competing militias loyal to sparring presidential candidates Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara both wreaked havoc among the country’s  civilian population. Ouattara, who was deemed to have won an election last November, eventually ousted Gbagbo, who had refused to accept the verdict of the internationally-recognized election.

At the time, much of the world’s ire was directed toward Gbagbo, who, observers claimed, was engendering a climate of hate crimes. The international community raised the specter of the “Responsibility to Protect” when justifying muscular U.N. action on Gbagbo’s military camps — helicopter sorties that led Ouattara’s victory. Ouattara, for his part, has made significant noises about fostering reconciliation and seeking justice for all those affected by the chaos that gripped the country from November last year through the summer. Yet, as a new Human Rights Watch report reveals, he has done little to turn over those culpable from his own camp. And there are many who have blood on their hands.

Here are excerpts from “They Killed Them Like It Was Nothing,” HRW’s deeply investigated report:

On November 28, 2010, Ivorians went to the polls to elect a president, hoping to end a decade-long crisis during which the country was divided politically and militarily between the north and south. In the week that followed this run-off election, despite clear international consensus that Alassane Ouattara had won, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down. The post-election crisis then evolved from a targeted campaign of violence by Gbagbo forces to an armed conflict in which armed forces from both sides committed grave crimes. Six months later, at least 3,000 civilians were killed and more than 150 women were raped in a conflict that was often waged along political, ethnic, and religious lines….

By the conflict’s end, residents reported that wells in the west were stuffed with human remains. Several Abidjan neighborhoods were marked with communal graves dug in haste, turning dirt parking lots and children’s soccer fields into constant reminders of the violence that had been visited upon the country. Other bodies littered the streets for days, particularly where pro-Gbagbo militias operated checkpoints. The stench became so horrible, according to residents, that they themselves took to burning corpses. In certain areas of Yopougon and Koumassi neighborhoods in particular, all that remained of many victims were a few white bone fragments and a blackened patch of concrete—both still visible to a Human Rights Watch researcher several weeks after clashes ended. In almost every corner of Côte d’Ivoire—particularly in the west, the southern coastal region, and in Abidjan—the conflict left utter destruction. Almost everyone carried a story of a brother killed, a sister raped, a home burned to the ground or pillaged of all its valuables…

The scale and organization of crimes committed by both sides, including murder, rape, and persecution of individuals and groups on political, ethnic, and national grounds, strongly suggest that they were widespread and systematic. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, such acts, as part of an “attack on a civilian population,” constitute crimes against humanity. Both sides also committed war crimes, including intentional attacks against civilians and the murder of people not taking an active part in hostilities. When such grave crimes are committed, people in command authority who should have been aware of the crime and failed to prevent it or submit it for investigation and prosecution can be held accountable.

It’s hard to tell, though, whether these new revelations will bring all responsible for the violence to justice.