Far from no-fly zones, air-strikes, and United Nations Security Council resolutions, Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war rages on, only without the same level of media attention. Fighting flared after Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede the November presidential election to the internationally recognized winner, Alassane Ouattara. Since then, clashes between supporters of both sides have steadily escalated, especially around the country’s main city of Abidjan. Latest reports indicate that pro-Ouattara rebels — who dominate the country’s northern regions — have begun pushing south towards Abidjan. In response, Gbagbo has been calling on his supporters to join the fight, especially the “Young Patriots” a pro-Gbagbo paramilitary group. Gbagbo has been accused by the UN of arming this and other civilian militias, sparking fears of a new round of pitched battles between rebels and pro-government forces. The UN estimates that some 435 people have died and 450,000 have fled due to the fighting, a figure likely to skyrocket in the coming weeks.
“On Monday, several UNHCR aid workers were turned away at a checkpoint by pro-Gbagbo supporters, Lejeune-Kaba said.
“Some of the displaced that we have reached have refused aid. They had been told ‘you can’t take any aid from the U.N. or you’ll be in trouble’. Even local NGOs have become targets so long as they are viewed as helping the U.N. deliver aid,” Lejeune-Kaba added.
U.N. staff have faced attacks by pro-Gbagbo gangs after repeated broadcasts on state television accused them of backing pro-Ouattara rebels. Gbagbo is furious with the mission for recognising Ouattara’s win.”
There is a great benefit to aid organizations maintaining neutrality during conflicts, something the ICRC does particularly well. However, any shrinking of the humanitarian space is more complicated than simply western militaries attempting to accomplish their mission with the carrot instead the stick. Rather, it can be caused by the involvement of any non-neutral organization in the provision of humanitarian aid during conflicts. Picking a side comes with a prize, regardless of who does the picking.