People in the Ivory Coast Are Being Arrested for No Reason
The removal of Laurent Gbagbo from his position as President of Cote D’Ivoire last year should have marked a new era for a country previously torn apart by internal conflict. Having officially lost the 2010 election to Alassan Ouattara—and subsequently refusing to concede his position—Gbagbo was accused of effectively assuming the role of a tyrant. The country was embroiled in civil war, with horrendous violence and abuses of human rights towards innocent civilians perpetrated by both sides. The despot’s eventual arrest in May of 2011 was hoped to have marked the end to a very bloody chapter in Cote D’Ivoire’s history, but, for many, the situation now seems bleaker than ever.
While militant Gbagbo loyalists continue to mount attacks against President Ouattara’s military, the armed forces have reacted with the mass arrest and imprisonment of purported pro-Gbagbo loyalists. Cote D’Ivoire finds itself caught in a dangerous limbo where the government must be allowed to defend itself without impinging on the freedom of the innocent—a balance that is far from being attained. With the military increasingly relying on flexing its muscles to crush the militant threat, a recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggests that the actions of Ouattara’s forces are perpetuating rather than quelling this seemingly endless cycle of violence.
The report also spoke of the makeshift detention camps that have been set up across the country to detain Gbagbo supporters, and the horrendous conditions that prisoners are being kept in. I called Matt Wells from HRW to speak about the organization’s findings and what the country’s future holds.
VICE: Hi Matt. So tell me about the military attempting to round up perceived pro-Gbagbo supporters.
Matt Wells: Well, you have neighbourhoods that—prior to the violence after the 2010 election—were heavily concentrated with supporters of one side or the other. The violence also takes on ethnic grounds, in that within Cote D’Ivoire you have certain groups within certain regions of the country that tend to support specific political parties and leaders.
So they’re just trying to silence any supporters, basically?
Yeah, what we saw after the string of attacks in August against the military was that the military often responded by rounding up youths from those ethnic groups en masse. Neighborhoods that were the sites of violence against pro-Ouatarra supporters in the post-election conflicts were targeted in particular. Neighborhoods such as Yopougon have long been a bastion of Gbagbo supporters, housing the militia men that the military want to weed out.
What about the detention centers that they’re taking them to?
They’re not official prisons or detention facilities, which means–right off the bat—that the conditions are going to be really poor. They’re former police barracks and, in some cases, impromptu military camps. You don’t have the sorts of facilities to humanely detain people. The people we interviewed were crammed into small spaces that became so overcrowded, large numbers had to sleep outside on the grass. They were watched over by soldiers at night, who would walk around, kicking people, or hitting them with the butts of their Kalashnikovs to make sure they couldn’t fall asleep.