|Supporters of Gbagbo and Outtara fought violently for several months after the November presidential election [AFP]|
Ivory Coast authorities are violating international law by detaining at least 50 people without charge for more than two months, human-rights observers say.
At least 21 of supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president and high-profile politicians, including the former prime minister and the former foreign minister, are being held at the Pergola Hotel in Abidjan, the country’s main commercial centre, Amnesty International (AI), the London-based rights monitor, said in a report on Wednesday.
A number of others are detained in the country’s north, including Gbagbo, his wife Simone and Pascal Affi N’guessan, the president of Gbagbo’s political party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the report said.
Salvatore Sagues, an AI researcher and specialist on Ivory Coast, told Al Jazeera that a two-person mission met the Pergola Hotel detainees last week but was banned from visiting those being held in the northern towns of Korhogo, Bouna and Odienné, including Gbagbo and his wife.
About 23 military personnel are reported to be held in Korhogo in possibly “life-threatening” conditions, without food or access to medical care, Sagues said quoting sources.
Jeannot Ahoussou Kouadio, the Ivorian justice minister, and state prosecutors have told the mission that those being held were not considered detainees but as under house arrest, in accordance with a “weird” 1963 law, that “provides for the requisition of people for the promotion of social and economic wealth of the country”, Sagues said.
He said: “We don’t see the link between this law and the current detentions … We would like to know under what legal basis these people are being held and we haven’t received an adequate answer to this question.
“If there are real charges against these people then they should be charged, but [instead] they are being held in house arrest in an illegal way, being denied access to lawyers or their families.”
Sagues said the state prosecutors interrogated the Pergola Hotel detainees before granting legal representation, asking questions such as why they support Gbagbo.
“It is not a criminal offense to support a politician … We are asking for [the detainees] to be given all rights, including access to lawyers. If they won’t charge them then [they must] release them immediately,” Sagues said.
A number of the Pergalo Hotel detainees said they were beaten by the FRCI – forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the current president – at the time of their arrest, but they have been treated “equally” with no violence or other foul play since their stay at the hotel, the AI report said.
Several of those detainees went to the hotel voluntarily, believing they would be protected from the widespread violence and reprisals in Abidjan in the days following Gbagbo’s arrest, the report said.
Ivory Coast saw at least 3,000 civilian deaths earlier this year when Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in a November 28 election against Ouattara.
The post-election power struggle ended after four months on April 11 when Gbagbo was captured.
He has since been put under house arrest in Korhoga, a town in the Ivory Coast’s north, and Ouattara wants him tried for human rights abuses during the conflict.
Human-rights groups say both Ouattara’s and Gbagbo’s camps committed atrocities against civilians.
Véronique Aubert, AI’s deputy director for Africa, says in the report that the unlawful detainment is “hardly a promising start to Alassane Outtara’s presidency”.
“Detaining people without charge is in direct breach of international human rights standards. The authorities in Ivory Coast must promptly charge all detainees with a recognisable criminal offence, or else release them immediately,” Aubert says.
France and UN liable?
AI’s report pointed at another possibly liable party in the unlawful detainment.
Some Pergola Hotel detainees told the AI that French soldiers and UN peacekeepers were present during their arrest and transfer to the hotel in Abidjan, and were watching them get beaten by pro-Ouattara forces, doing nothing to prevent them from ill treatment, the report said.
“Ivorian security forces are responsible for security inside the Hotel complex, but UN soldiers are also stationed there to provide security along the building’s external perimeter. This means they exercise some degree of supervision over who is allowed to enter the grounds,” it said.
The mission informed Choi Young-jin, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for the Ivory Coast, of the Pergola detainees’ testimonies, Sagues said.
“We told them that we are quite worried that the UN is in a way participating in illegal detention because they turned a blind eye,” he said.
“Mr Choi [told our mission that] they had no position on the legal status of these people.”