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U.S. human rights official, others condemn post-election violence in Ivory Coast

People walk down a road barricaded with tables, in Abidjan, Ivory coast, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010. Police were out in force in Abidjan on Friday as supporters of the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election vowed to try once again to seize state institutions after a similar attempt the day before resulted in up to 30 deaths. The streets of Abidjan were nearly deserted Friday. Shops were shuttered and residents peered out of their windows. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
People walk down a road barricaded with tables, in Abidjan, Ivory coast, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010. Police were out in force in Abidjan on Friday as supporters of the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election vowed to try once again to seize state institutions after a similar attempt the day before resulted in up to 30 deaths. The streets of Abidjan were nearly deserted Friday. Shops were shuttered and residents peered out of their windows. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) (Sunday Alamba - AP)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 7:04 PM

UNITED NATIONS - A top U.S. official said Thursday that as many as 200 people have died in post-election violence in Ivory Coast as followers of the incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, stepped up a campaign of violence and intimidation to help him cling to power.

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Dozens more have been "tortured or mistreated, and others have been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night," said Betty E. King, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"President Alassane Dramane Ouattara is the legitimately elected leader of Cote d'Ivoire," she said, speaking at a special session of the rights commission.

The United States, France and key African states have launched an effort to recruit reinforcements for a U.N. peacekeeping force for Ivory Coast, which was divided by a 2002-2003 civil war. They have also sought to bolster the international standing of Ouattara, whose U.N. envoy was recognized by the world body Tuesday.

After a Nov. 28 presidential runoff that was meant to reunite the country, Gbagbo and Ouattara both claimed victory. But the electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner, and worsening violence since then has forced more than 6,000 people to flee to neighboring Liberia for safety.

U.N. officials in New York said they believe that pro-Gbagbo groups have been putting distinctive marks on the homes of members of ethnic groups aligned with Ouattara. People in these areas have apparently been erecting barricades to protect their neighbors.

King called for investigations into reports of "enforced disappearances, targeted killings, arbitrary detentions and intimidation of those that opposed former president Gbagbo, as well as the discovery of possibly mass graves."

She also expressed concern about reports that media controlled by Gbagbo are "broadcasting hate speech fabricating information and calling for violence against members of the international community, members of particular ethnic groups and all Ivoirians that oppose former president Gbagbo."

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and a bloc of West African states, called ECOWAS, have recognized the electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the victor.

African governments, including Nigeria and South Africa, have taken the lead in trying to persuade Gbagbo to step down, offering the prospects of an exile in South Africa. But Gbagbo has refused to go, telling African mediators that he would only be willing to consider a power-sharing arrangement in which Ouattara served as his vice president, according to U.N.-based diplomats.

In an attempt to force Gbagbo's hand, the United States and the European Union have imposed travel sanctions on Gbagbo, his wife, Simone, and more than a dozen of his close allies. On Wednesday, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the bank had cut off funding to Ivory Coast and shut its office in Abidjan, the largest city.

"The political stalemate has been characterized by the use of excessive force by supporters of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo," said Kyung-wha Kang, the U.N.'s deputy high commissioner for human rights. "These acts are ominously reminiscent of the violence that blighted the country in 2004 and are blatant violations of obligations under international law."

"Unfortunately, it has been impossible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to restrictions on movement by U.N. personnel," she said. "Indeed, the special representative of the secretary general was stopped at gunpoint as he sought to verify such allegations."


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