Rights group wants Racism Conference to condemn Cote d'Ivoire

New York- US (PANA) -- Human Rights Watch has urged the forthcoming Conference against racism in Durban, South Africa to condemn the government of Cote d'Ivoire for allegedly inciting hatred based on ethnic and religious differences.
In a 70-page report on the violence that accompanied political elections in Cote d'Ivoire in 2000, the New York-based rights Organisation accused government officials of inciting violent xenophobia, that is still threatening to destabilise the country.
Based on interviews of victims and witnesses, the report released Tuesday documents more than 200 alleged killings, as well as torture, rape and arbitrary detention.
Most of the victims, it alleged, were from the largely Muslim north of the country or immigrants or descendants of immigrants.
"Africans have often been the victims of racism, but they can also be perpetrators.
In Cote d'Ivoire, we see the kind of intolerance and bigotry that the Racism Conference is designed to address.
The Ivorian leaders and security forces responsible for these atrocities must be widely condemned and brought to justice," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director, Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
The report said election violence began with security forces targeting civilians on the basis of their political affiliation, but when President Laurent Gbagbo emerged victorious, the security forces began targeting people explicitly on the basis of religion, ethnic group or nationality.
It claimed that the goal was to hunt down supporters of opposition politician, Alassane Ouattara and his Rally for Republicans party, which draw their support from the targeted groups.
While an investigation by the UN focused on the massacre of some 57 young men on the outskirts of the Ivorian capital Abidjan, Human Rights Watch said many other atrocities were committed by security forces during the election, including "smaller massacres, the torture of hundreds of detainees, disappearance of at least 15 young men and sexual abuse of women by gendarmes".
The UN investigation blamed the gendarmes (police) for the massacre of the 57 people, but a military tribunal in Abidjan on 3 August acquitted eight gendarmes accused of the massacre for lack of evidence.
Human Rights Watch called on the government to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of all the violations of human rights so as to restore the rule of law and end the era of impunity in the country.
The report detailed some accounts of violence by victims and eyewitnesses.
According to the rights Organisation, the violence started when military ruler, Gen.
Robert Guei, who took over power in a coup of December 1999, amended the constitution providing that both parents of a presidential candidate must be Ivorians.
Guei was deposed in the political crisis.
It is estimated that 25 percent of the population of Cote d'Ivoire were born abroad or descended from immigrants.
Human Rights Watch claimed that the controversial constitutional requirement was designed then to exclude Ouattara from the election, Applying the provision, the country's Supreme Court disqualified 14 candidates, including Ouattara from the election on grounds of citizenship.
When he became President following the October election, Gbagbo also used the same citizenship criteria to bar Ouattara from parliamentary elections in December, the report added.
"The exploitation of ethnic divisions for political gain is all too familiar in Africa," Takirambude said.
"When politicians incite hatred to further their own careers, the victims are the people they should be serving.
Ivorian leaders should step back from this course now before it is too late.
" The agenda of the 31 August-7 September Racism Conference has nothing on the pervasive problem of ethnicity in Africa.

28 august 2001 13:05:00

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