Mass Graves in Ivory Coast


The government violence and ethnic cleansing in Sudan has started to get sustained news coverage in the past few weeks; but a humanitarian disaster in another African country is going largely unreported. In Côte d’Ivoire, gross human rights violations have been mounting in an ongoing clash between the government and a rebel group. The conflict began in 2002 when civil war broke out and has continued despite a 2003 truce.

Early last week, a United Nations peacekeeping group that has been monitoring the ceasefire and investigating human rights abuses announced the discovery of three mass-graves. The graves contain at least 99 bodies believed to be linked to a June battle between opposing rebel factions in Korhogo. Some of the dead had been shot, others had suffocated. Two survivors of what may be the same massacre told the Associated Press that they had been imprisoned for days by the northern rebels in a shipping container:

‘We were in difficult conditions: no water, no food, no air. Sometimes they pumped tear gas into the container,’ said Siaka, one survivor…Detainees were packed too tightly to move – and for some, too tightly to breathe, said Siaka, who explained that he lived by gasping air through a small hole in the top of the container.

Another survivor watched 3 other detainees load 75 bodies of the suffocated prisoners into a truck, which promptly disappeared. These deaths are only part of the widespread politically-fueled violence that has plagued Côte d’Ivoire since the 2002-2003 civil war between the government and the rebels over ethnically-related issues such as land reform and national affiliation. The war broke out after a failed coup by rebel forces, who then took control of the country’s Northern region. Despite the 2003 Linas-Marcoussis Peace Accord and the deployment of several thousand international troops, conflict has continued; human rights violations proliferate on both sides according to a June United Nations Security Council report (PDF) on the Côte d’Ivoire.

The discovery of the mass graves came only days after the July 30 Accra III Agreement , brokered by Ghanian president John Kufuor, Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The agreement offered a timetable for disarmament, political reform, and reconciliation between Côte d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo, his political opposition and the northern rebels. Though an important step, the agreement is not in itself a formula for success, as indicated by a statement made yesterday http://ods-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/451/40/PDF/N0445140. pdf?OpenElement (PDF) by the President of the UN Security Council. Emphasizing the council’s “readiness” to take action against those who interfere with the peace process, the statement implied that the council would use military force if necessary:

“The Security Council takes note with profound concern of the preliminary results of the investigation led on the massacres that occurred in Korhogo. It reiterates its firm condemnation of all atrocities and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in Côte d’Ivoire and in particular those that have occurred on 25 and 26 March 2004 in Abidjan.”

According to the June UN Security Council report (PDF), during this March incident, government forces killed 120 people from the opposition party who were protesting delays in the stalled peace process. An additional 274 were wounded during the protest and 20 people disappeared. The many other government human rights violations include the

“arbitrary detention of civilians, extrajudicial killings, as well as discrimination and violence on the basis of nationality, ethnic origin, gender and political opinion.”

Meanwhile, in the north, the rebels practice extortion, arbitrary tax collection, kidnapping, and summary execution. Child prostitution and rape have also increased.

The U.S. has also been weighing in on the peace process. After urging “all the parties to fully implement the commitments made in Accra in the spirit of democratic compromise and reconciliation,” earlier this week, the U.S. embassy in Côte d’Ivoire released a statement yesterday condemning the recent Korhogo massacre. According to the Agence France-Presse, the U.S. called for the restoration of state authority in the rebel-controlled north. How exactly this order fits into a commitment to democratic compromise remains to be seen.