Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ivory Coast: church attacked; refugees suffering; lawyers refused; Mbeki speaks.

On Wednesday 4 May 2011, after weeks of fighting, Yopougon district -- Abidjan's last pro-Gbagbo stronghold -- fell to Alassane Ouattara's Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) .

It appears however, that the FRCI may have perpetrated a massacre in Yopougon at a Baptist Church which has been sheltering more than 2,500 refugees. The UN is investigating.

Background: Ivory Coast's churches filling up -- with refugees
By Elizabeth Kendal, for Religious Liberty Monitoring, 24 April 2011,

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports: "On 3 May, the Baptist Church where 2500 Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] have sought refuge in Yopougon neighbourhood was attacked by armed men [reportedly FRCI]. 54 persons were said to have been taken away toward the Shell petrol station not far from Institute of the Blind in Yopougon. Thev[church's] offices including emergency medicines supplied to MSF [Doctors without Borders] were looted.

The OCHA was able to report that: "2500 IDPs currently sheltered at the Baptist Church in Yopougon are being assisted by MSF CH and UNICEF with medical treatment, medicines, child delivery kits, antibiotics and water treatment tablets kits, emergency medicines, antibiotics and water treatment tablets."

The OCHA report also notes that the 27,000 refugees still holed up in the Catholic mission in Duékoué have finally received food from the WFP (World Food Program) after a delay of two weeks. However, the 895 refugees currently staying at the UEESO (Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) church in Duékoué have not received WFP food assistance since the end of March. Fortunately the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been able to distribute 750 kg of rice, 10 cartons of sardines, 68 litres of cooking oil, and 5 kg of salt to the UEESO church.

According to the OCHA report, refugees sheltering in St. Bernard's Church Abidjan face eviction "this week" (i.e. first week of May); but the report does not say who is evicting them or why.

Clearly the humanitarian and security situation for Ivory Coast's Christian remains dire.

VICTOR'S JUSTICE

In Abidjan on Friday 6 May, Alassane Ouattara was sworn in as President of Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, deposed president Laurent Gbagbo is being held under house arrest in the far-northern town of Korhogo nearly 600 kilometres (370 miles) due north of Abidjan. His wife, Simone, is being detained at a separate location, in Odienné in the far northwest.

Also on Friday 6 May, two prominent Paris-based lawyers -- Jacques Verges and Marcel Ceccaldi -- arrived to represent Laurent Gbagbo at his hearing in the northern city of Korhogo. They did not get far however, as they were forced to return to France after their visas were refused at Abidjan airport. A third lawyer, the Franco-Cameroonian lawyer Lucie Bourthoumieux, was able to pass through passport control as she had rights of residency. However, she elected to return to Paris with her colleagues. According to the statement issued by Paris law firm Bourthoumieux on behalf of the three lawyers, "The three lawyers were turned away in circumstances that resembled a trap."

Jacques Verges regards this as evidence that the authorities in Ivory Coast did not want the former president to receive a proper defence. "I am very pessimistic about the future of a regime which treats lawyers in such a way," he said.

Marcel Ceccaldi added: "If Laurent Gbagbo does not want to be heard without the presence of his lawyers, there cannot be any hearing according to Ivorian law."

See: Gbagbo grilled over Ivory Coast unrest, 6 May 2011

On Saturday 7 May, Ivory Coast's state prosecutor, Simplice Kouadio Koffi, began the formal questioning of Gbagbo, despite the absence of his lawyers.

"Laurent Gbagbo has been questioned in the presence of his personal doctor," Koffi told AFP. "I will travel to Odienné Sunday to begin questioning Simone Gbagbo," he added.

"So this is why they wanted to stop us coming," French lawyer Marcel Ceccaldi said Saturday from Paris. "On the one hand, they announce they are setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and on the other they start proceedings against the president. That is going to accentuate the faultlines inside the country." (AFP)

Ceccaldi plans to take up the matter with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Marie-Antoinette Singleton -- Laurent and Simone Gbagbo's US-based lawyer-daughter -- is concerned that her parents have been "kidnapped as war booty, without any legal mandate". She has written a letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy in which she laments that her family has had no news of her parents and Alassane Ouattara has not responded to her request to be allowed to visit her father.

None of this should not surprise anyone, as the stated goal of Ouattara's rebellion was always control of Ivory Coast, not justice. Guillaume Soro, former leader of the northern rebel forces Forces Nouvelles (New Forces), now Prime Minister of Ivory Coast, was quite unambiguous in May 2004 when he declared the rebels' intentions: "Why should we content ourselves with Bouake? We want all of Ivory Coast!"

See: Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels).
By Elizabeth Kendal for WEA RLC, Friday 11 June 2004

MBEKI SPEAKS

In an article entitled, What the World Got Wrong in Cote D'Ivoire, published in Foreign Policy magazine on 29 April 2011, Thabo Mbeki asks the most important question of all: "Why is the United Nations entrenching former colonial powers on our continent?"

Mbeki's article is an immensely important one for anyone who still needs convincing that only things ignoble -- such as betrayal, megalomania, greed and abuse of power -- lay behind the profound crisis gripping Ivory Coast; a crisis that will not easily be resolved.

Mbeki wonders why the "international community" (i.e. the UN and the West) insisted that Ivory Coast hold presidential elections when the conditions simply did not exist to conduct free and fair polling. According to signed agreements, the country should first have been unified and the rebels disarmed. Neither of these conditions had been met. Despite concerns, Gbagbo was pressured into holding elections that could never have been free and fair (particularly in the rebel-held north) and could only ever have consolidated the crisis.

As Mbeki notes, the very people who were insisting on rule of law as fundamental to democracy, acted illegally to recognise the electoral commission's provisional results, despite the fact that the Constitutional Council, which had been investigation numerous election irregularities (mostly in the rebel-controlled north), is the only body constitutionally empowered to announce results.

Mbeki notes that as both Gbagbo and Ouattara laid claim to the presidency, Gbagbo proposed that in order to resolve the matter, an international commission should be established to verify the election results, with the important pre-condition that both he and Ouattara should accept the determination of the commission.

"This proposal was rejected by the international community," laments Mbeki, "despite the fact that it would have resolved the electoral dispute without resort to war . . .

". . . Clearly the independent international commission proposed by Laurent Gbagbo could have been established and empowered to make a definitive and binding determination about what had happened. Time will tell why this was not done!"

Furthermore, notes Mbeki, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General then chose to "exceed his mandate" and declare Ouattara the winner, making the UN Mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) "a partisan in the Ivorian conflict, rather than a neutral peacemaker". From that point, the UN, along with France, militarily intervened to open the way for the northern rebels (the Forces Nouvelles) to defeat the Ivorian Armed Forces and capture Laurent Gbagbo "under the shameless pretence that it was acting to protect civilians".

Mbeki deplores France's Françafrique policies, with which the neo-colonial power advances its own interests at Francophone Africa's expense.

He notes that President Gbagbo had no possibility to act on his own to reunify the country and achieve reconciliation amongst the peoples. (In this regard it is important to remember that when Pres. Gbagbo did attempt to reunify the country in Nov 2004, France intervened to prevent it.) Mbeki asserts that President Ouattara will not be able to realise those objectives either, outside of an honest agreement with the Ivorian population represented by Gbagbo.

Mbeki also quotes US ambassador in Ivory Coast, Wanda L. Nebsit, who, in July 2009, expressed concerns about the role being played by Blaise Compaore, the president of neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Finally, Mbeki concludes that the events in Ivory Coast have "exposed the reality of the balance and abuse of power in the post-Cold War era, and put paid to the fiction that the major powers respect the rule of law in the conduct of international relations, even as defined by the U.N. Charter, and that, as democrats, they respect the views of the peoples of the world.

"We can only hope that Laurent and Simone Gbagbo and the Ivorian people do not continue to suffer as abused and humiliated victims of a global system which, in its interests, while shouting loudly about universal human rights, only seeks to perpetuate the domination of the many by the few who dispose of preponderant political, economic, military and media power."

What the World Got Wrong in Cote D'Ivoire
By Thabo Mbeki,
Foreign Policy, 29 April 2011