22 October 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Crackdown Sparks Rights Abuse Allegations

Abidjan — Since a spate of attacks on Côte d'Ivoire's army and police bases in August, several civilians have been rounded up, beaten and detained for ransom, say rights groups and ex-detainees who accuse the Côte d'Ivoire Republican Forces (FRCI - also part of the army) of violation and mistreatment.

In recent months, armed gangs the authorities say are suspected supporters of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo have raided military and police bases in and around the commercial capital Abidjan as well as a power station and a border post. The attack on the power station in mid-October was the first non-military target since the ambushes begun.

The FRCI fought for then opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara in a bloody post-election conflict pitting them against supporters of Gbagbo, who refused to accept defeat to Ouattara in the November 2010 polls. Ouattara took power in April 2011.

"On 15 September I was kidnapped by a group of Côte d'Ivoire Republican Forces based at Camp 2 in Yopougon-Niangon. Along with eight other youths, they accused us of planning to cause instability and demanded that we reveal where we were hiding weapons," said Thibaut Guéï, a teacher living in Abidjan's western Yopugon District, a Gbagbo stronghold during the 2010-2011 post-election violence.

"Every time we denied the accusations, we were badly beaten and they poured urine on us," said Guéï, who showed his slit left ear he said was cut by one of the soldiers. "I begged them not to do it, but they did it."

"After I lost consciousness, they called my parents and demanded 150,000 CFA (US$300) before freeing me and taking me to hospital."

Yacouba Doumbia, the head of the Ivoirian Human Rights Movement (MIDH), told IRIN that illegal detentions and mistreatment were on the rise. He said a village youth leader in the west of the country was beaten by FRCI troops at their base in August. FRCI also detained two people from the same family for three days and beat a man in the same area who later died of his injuries. All were accused of plotting to cause instability.

"Ensuring the country's security is very important and should be done in a manner that respects people's rights and in observance of the rules. In a lawful state, ensuring order is the exclusive duty of the police and gendarme so trained," Doumbia said.

"That is why we call on the government to give FRCI military and human rights training."

Insecurity is a major threat to stability in Côte d'Ivoire, a country that has been shaken by deadly political crises over the past decade. Political tensions persist since the post-election unrest, a reconciliation drive has not taken effect, violence has repeatedly erupted and the country's armed forces, deeply divided by the conflict, are yet to be reformed.

Government spokesman Bruno Nabagné Koné said the accusations of mistreatment were "lies".

"Of course there's always a rise in tension in the country, but the arrests have been done legally and in total transparency."

Serious allegations

For Ricard Kodjo, spokesman of Gabgbo's fromer ruling Ivoirian People's Front party, hundreds of people have been arrested by armed men he did not identify.

"Some 400 people have been abducted and 360-380 people have been killed in Abidjan. Worse, some homes of people who have been exiled are now being used as concentration camps. There are at least a dozen torture camps [in Abidjan]," Kodjo said in a statement on 16 October.

Twenty-eight year-old Boniface Ackah said he was arrested on 16 August in Dabou area to the west of Abidjan after an attack on a police station there, and later transferred to the capital.

"We were detained for 10 days. They never explained anything to us. We were beaten with truncheons and rods," said Ackah, whose body bore dark marks from beatings. He said he and other detainees contacted their families [and as a result] the soldiers demanded 50,000 CFA ($100) from some and a million CFA ($2,000) from others.

"The soldiers were determining who has a rich father and who doesn't. Our parents are poor, but they were saying 'this parent has money he can send a certain amount'. Then the family member who comes for you has to pay before leaving the detention camp," Ackah told IRIN.

The head of the Ivoirian Human Rights League, René Hokou Legré, said they had contacted the interior minister over the arrests and ransom demands, and the minister said a probe had been launched.

"We fear that these acts will continue and cause deaths. It is turning into banditry and it isn't likely to reduce tension and help national reconciliation," said Legré said.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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