/ 25 March 2011

Growing concern over Côte d’Ivoire’s humanitarian crisis

Growing Concern Over Côte D'ivoire's Humanitarian Crisis

Concern grew on Friday over Côte d’Ivoire’s worsening humanitarian crisis, with up to a million people fleeing post-election violence as strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s camp sought mediated talks to end the political stand-off.

In Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council set up an independent, international probe into allegations of serious abuses and rights violations in the wake of the disputed presidential polls last November.

The 47-member council approved a resolution proposed by Nigeria on behalf of African countries recognising the election of Alassane Ouattara as Ivorian president, condemning “atrocities” and expressing concern about “the seriousness and extent” of abuse.

The United Nations (UN) estimates up to a million people may have fled the economic capital Abidjan alone after weeks of bloody street clashes which killed 52 in the past week, and 462 since the start of the crisis.

West African leaders on Thursday called on the UN Security Council to reinforce the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission Unoci (United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire), and impose more stringent international targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies.

They want to enable the mission to “use all necessary means to protect life and property, and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr. Alassane Ouattara”, the internationally recognised president.

‘Faced with insecurity’
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the crisis had a severe impact on access to healthcare, with a severe lack of medicines.

“Faced with insecurity like the rest of the population, medical personnel have fled health establishments in conflict zones,” the organisation said in a statement.

“In Abidjan, according to health officials, six hospitals have seen the departure of most of their staff due to the insecurity,” the aid agency said.

The situation was particularly serious in Abidjan’s northern suburb of Abobo, a pro-Ouattara stronghold which has been bombarded almost daily with rockets, mortars and shells.

There was only one hospital functioning in the south of Abobo where medical teams received 273 emergency patients in three weeks, 225 of whom suffered bullet injuries.

Access to healthcare was equally precarious in the west of the country, the scene of fierce clashes between the rival factions.

‘A little absurd’
On Thursday, Valerie Amos, the head of UN humanitarian and emergency relief operations, stressed the plight of civilians caught up in the fighting.

“The escalation of violence and use of heavy weaponry, particularly in urban areas, is taking an increasing toll on civilians,” she said in a statement issued from New York.

On the political front, allies of Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power to Ouattara, said on Friday that the use of force was not the solution and mediated talks were the only way out of the crisis.

Spokesperson for Gbagbo’s outgoing government Ahoua Don Mello told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that a call by west African leaders for the United Nations to strengthen the mandate of its peacekeeping mission was “a little absurd”.

“It is necessary to stop the violence, it is through dialogue that we can do this. Force will not solve the problem, it is a dead-end,” he said.

The spokesperson for Gbagbo’s outgoing government Ahoua Don Mello told AFP that calls for the UN to strengthen the mandate of its mission was “a little absurd”.

“Our objective is to stay within the African Union framework, with a truly neutral high representative who will open inter-Ivorian talks. We hope this representative will be nominated as soon as possible.”

‘Fears of all-out war’
He accused UNOCI, of being partisan.

“We need an impartial referee who doesn’t take sides,” said Don Mello.

UN-certified results of the November election recognised Ouattara as the winner.

The vote was supposed to end a decade of political turmoil in the world’s top cocoa producer, which was divided into a rebel-held north and Gbagbo-controlled south after a failed coup in 2002.

Efforts at mediation in the past four months have failed to resolve the crisis, and the African Union was supposed to appoint a high representative to open talks between the rival presidents on Thursday.

On March 19, Gbagbo’s government said it was ready for talks with Ouattara, who rejected the proposal and called on the incumbent to cede power.

Clashes between forces loyal to the rival sides have led to daily bloodshed, and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said “fears of all-out war” had led to massive displacement. — AFP