Open letter to ecowas (on cote d’ivoire) from icg

Brussels, 22 March 2011

Excellencies,

We are deeply concerned about the worsening security situation in Côte d’Ivoire and urge enhanced efforts to stop the country’s slide into full-scale civil war, which would likely involve ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocity crimes. On 10 March 2011, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union ended the debate on the outcome of Côte d’Ivoire’s 28 November 2010 presidential election by endorsing the report of the panel of the five heads of state who confirmed Alassane Ouattara as the sole legitimate president of the country. Unfortunately, this pronouncement has done little to relieve the crisis, because the incumbent regime responded with renewed armed attacks on Ouattara supporters and violent repression of the population.2 0

Daily attacks on civilians, including reports of forced disappearances, rapes and torture, continue, and the death toll far exceeds the UN’s confirmed count of 440 dead. Fighting between forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and those allied to Alassane Ouattara has increased, including the use of heavy weapons, and widespread population displacement paralleled by hate speech and incitement to violence are worrying indicators of a deepening crisis and the potential for ethnic cleansing and other forms of mass killing. Côte d’Ivoire is no longer on the brink of civil war; it has already begun.

The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), with the support of the African Union, should offer Gbagbo a final chance for a peaceful departure, while actively preparing to oust his regime by all necessary means before it is too late. The massive investment the international community has made in peace and security in West Africa for nearly two decades is under threat.

In a 3 March report, the International Crisis Group identified three scenarios in the short term: “decay and lasting division of the country”, “social crisis and popular insurrection”, and “civil war”. We stressed that the civil war scenario accompanied by civilian massacres was the most likely, and that the situation in Côte d’Ivoire constituted a serious and imminent threat to peace and security throughout West Africa. Unfortunately, the facts on the ground are proving us correct.

People should not be misled by Gbagbo’s appeal for inter-Ivorian dialogue and his call for an end to the violence, delivered through the spokesman for his unrecognised government on 18 March. The outgoing president did not make a clear and definitive recognition of Ouattara’s election win, and the following day, Gbagbo’s Minister for Youth, Charles Blé Goudé, called on young Ivorians to enlist in the army en masse “to free Côte d’Ivoire from bandits”.

The future Gbagbo proposes for his country is war, anarchy and violence, with ethnic, religious and xenophobic dimensions. Ivorian state television, which is controlled by the outgoing regime, recently aired images of the bodies of rebels killed by security forces, described as nationals of other countries in West Africa, namely Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mali, which in the context of years of indoctrination through xenophobic rhetoric is open encouragement for reprisals against immigrant communities.

ECOWAS must not give in to Gbagbo’s blackmail. The physical and economic security of West African nationals living in Côte d’Ivoire will never be secured by a regime that coarsely manipulates the rhetoric of solidarity with “brother countries” while threatening their citizens and unleashing militias to terrorise opponents. All of West Africa faces the risk of being severely weakened by the return to civil war in Côte d’Ivoire and the disintegration of its central government. ECOWAS must now take decisive political and military measures to prevent a much greater crisis emerging.

Excellencies, as you meet on 23 and 24 March in Abuja, we invite you to:

  • ask the High Representative to be appointed by the president of the Commission of the African Union to provide a last chance for the outgoing president to leave in a dignified manner with guarantees of security, and to require an immediate response from him;
  • decide on the establishment of a military mission whose objective would be to allow the regional community to protect, along with UNOCI forces, all people residing in Côte d’Ivoire in the very likely case of the eruption of massive violence, to support military action and decisions which could be taken by ECOWAS in accordance with developments in the months to come, and help President Ouattara and his government to ensure authority over all defence and security forces and to control the entire territory;
  • ask the United Nations Security Council to consider emergency measures that could take the form of preventive military actions by UNOCI to more effectively protect civilian populations, such as disabling the mobility of armed elements undertaking indiscriminate attacks with heavy weaponry in Abidjan;
  • ask the Peace and Security Council of the African Union and the UN Security Council to adopt individual sanctions against those who reject the decision of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union dated 10 March 2011, those who are responsible for deliberate attacks on civilians, and those who openly call for violence, or are responsible for broadcast and print media messages inciting hatred and violence.

ECOWAS has played a key role since the beginning of the Ivorian crisis. Its leadership is more important than ever. Since 28 November 2010, Gbagbo’s efforts to remain in power no longer leave any doubt about the serious threat that his regime poses to peace and security throughout West Africa. The cost of inaction is much higher now than that of taking strong political and military measures.

With our highest consideration,

Louise Arbour
President of the International Crisis Group

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