Be Very Concerned About Cote D’Ivoire Violence

I just received this missive from a team of health researchers at Harvard and Yale who work on HIV efforts in Ivory Coast.

We collaborate closely with a team of doctors and researchers based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This team provides medical care to over 10,000 HIV-infected individuals in that city, many through PEPfAR-related programs. Their excellent treatment services have improved the health of thousands; their pioneering research has saved the lives of even greater numbers throughout the developing world. These are brave men and women who have witnessed desperate humanitarian emergencies first- hand, who function with little support, and who are not the least bit prone to exaggeration.

Over the last few days, we have received increasingly dire reports from our colleagues. They describe the situation in Abidjan as “pre-genocidal.” Several neighborhoods of the capital and outlying areas that are loyal to President-Elect Alassane Ouattara have now been fenced in by troops supporting ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. Civilians attempting to cross checkpoints have been robbed and killed. Gangs of militiamen conduct regular sweeps through neighborhood houses, ostensibly to maintain order but, in reality, to intimidate. Civilians in these neighborhoods are trapped, threatened in their own homes, terrified to leave, and not knowing where to turn for safety. For people with chronic conditions like HIV – dependent on access to medications for their own health – an already life-threatening situation is made even worse by the growing national drug shortage and the real danger of leaving one’s home just to fill a prescription or to keep a medical appointment.

The political-military situation in Côte d’Ivoire was front-and-center in people’s minds a few short weeks ago. But events in Egypt, in Libya, and in Japan have overtaken the headlines. Gbagbo has capitalized on our collective inattention to secure his illegal position and to terrorize the people. The UN needs to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 400 people have been killed and some 400,000 persons displaced while UN troops have been on the ground. Specific steps that can be taken immediately include: opening UN and French military bases to civilian refugees; establishing a humanitarian corridor to permit civilians to escape the violence and reach these bases; and jamming the state broadcasting system so that it can no longer incite violence.  [emphasis mine]

The UN reports that 1 million people have fled Abidjan.  At least 462 people have been killed since the crisis began in December, not least of whom were six women gunned down by Gbagbo supporters during a peaceful demonstration three weeks ago. If heavy fighting spreads from the strategic town of Duekoue, an untold number will be killed.

Genocide is not out of the realm of possibility. There are already reports of mass graves in Abidjan.  At the very least, the country seems to be inching ever closer toward an ethnic based mass atrocity event.