Rights group wants Cote d'Ivoire indicted for xenophobia

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Ahead of the World Conference against Racism in Durban, the New York based Human Rights Watch has released a report indicting the authorities in Cote d'Ivoire for condoning and even inciting xenophobia.
The 70-page report titled "The New Racism: The Political Manipulation of Ethnicity in Côte d'Ivoire," describes atrocities committed during presidential and parliamentary elections in October and December 2000.
Human Rights Watch affirms that the report is based on extensive interviews of victims and witnesses in Abidjan late last year and early this year.
The report, which documents more than 200 killings, as well as torture, rape, and arbitrary detention, concludes that the political and social climate in Cote d'Ivoire remains volatile as intolerance and xenophobia persists in the country.
In the report, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch Peter Takirambudde concedes that while "Africans have often been the victims of racism, they can also be its perpetrators".
In the specific case of Cote d'Ivoire, he notes said "we see the kind of intolerance and bigotry that the Racism Conference is designed to address," and urges that "the Ivorian leaders and security forces responsible for these atrocities must be widely condemned, and brought to justice".
The election violence, Human Rights Watch noted, began with security forces targeting civilians on the basis of their political affiliation but, following Gbagbo's victory, shifted to their religion, ethnic group, or national origin with the overwhelming majority of victims coming from the largely Muslim north of the country, or were immigrants to Côte d'Ivoire.
The rights group noted that about one-quarter of the population of Cote d'Ivoire was born abroad or is descended from immigrants, and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and his party, the Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), largely draw their support from these groups.
The report highlights a widely reported incident in October 2000, in which security forces security forces massacred 57 young men and had their bodies dumped in a mass grave in a forest on the outskirts of Abidjan.
On 3 August 2001, following what critics dismissed as a flawed trial, a military tribunal in Abidjan acquitted eight gendarmes accused of the October 2000 massacre on grounds of "lack of evidence".
The prosecutor said he would appeal the verdict and take the case to a civilian court where survivors might be more willing to testify.
No other members of the security forces alleged to be responsible for abuses have been charged, Human Rights Watch observed, noting that President Gbagbo had instead announced that a national "Forum of Reconciliation" would take place on 7 September.
International condemnation of the Yopougon killings, it noted, largely focused on pursuing justice in the case alone, whereas there has been relatively little international attention to pursuing justice in the scores of other documented atrocities.
The rights group recalled that since 1995, when then- President Henri Bédié first invoked a conception of "Ivorité" or "Ivorian-ness," there have been several outbreaks of violence against people of foreign descent.
It recalled too that military ruler General Guei, who briefly took power following a coup in late 1999, introduced a constitutional amendment that required any presidential candidate to have both parents born in Côte d'Ivoire - a move Human Rights Watch charged was calculated "to exclude Ouattara, the leader of the strongest opposition party".
Just before the presidential elections, the body recalled, a controversial Supreme Court decision disqualified 14 of the 19 candidates on citizenship grounds, including Ouattara.
It noted that Laurent Gbagbo, who claimed victory in the presidential elections when Guei fled the country in the midst of protests at his attempts to rig the result, used the same standard of parental citizenship to ensure that Ouattara was once again not allowed to run during the December parliamentary elections.
"The exploitation of ethnic divisions for political gain is all too familiar in Africa," said Takirambudde, pointing out that "when politicians incite hatred to further their own careers, the victims are the people they should be serving".
Human Rights Watch urged President Gbagbo to direct the Justice ministry to promptly investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for serious violations of human rights.

27 august 2001 14:39:00

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