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UN Week – 1/3/2011

January 14, 2011

by John and Douglas Carey, editors, www.unweek.blogspot.com 

Contents of this issue: a New Year’s powder keg.

On December 31st, the UN warned Côte d’Ivoire’s outgoing president that it would “repulse and defeat” any attack by his partisans on the head-quarters of his internationally recognized successor, and that he himself would be held personally accountable for human rights abuses.

“They cannot possibly take the Golf Hotel,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi told UN Radio, when asked about threats by Minister for Youth Blé Goudé to attack on January 1st the UN-protected hotel where opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, clear victor in November’s run-off election, is based after outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down and vacate the presidential palace.

“We are heavily armed and present and preparing ourselves,” Choi said of the 9-000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, known as UNOCI, some of whose forces are guarding the building. “They will be defeated, they will be repulsed. There is no doubt about this. I hope he (Mr. Goudé) will not step into this fatal minefield,” he added, noting that the UN had so far not seen any sign of preparations for an attack.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief has directly warned Mr. Gbagbo and his entourage that they will be held personally accountable amid continuing reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, sexual violence and arbitrary detentions following his refusal to step down.

“No longer can heads of State, and other actors, be sure that they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in Geneva, announcing that she had written “in the strongest terms” to Mr. Gbagbo reminding him of his duty under international law to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting, instigating or standing by in tacit approval of rights violations.

She sent similar letters to Ivorian Republican Guard Commander General Bruno Ble Dogbo, Marines Rear Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, and Security Operations Command Centre General Georges Guiai Bi Poin.

Ms. Pillay reiterated her strong concern that deteriorating security and interference with UNOCI continue to block investigation of a large number of reported violations.

“We have received reports of at least two mass graves; however, UN human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them,” she said. “Denying access to alleged mass grave sites and places where the victims’ mortal remains are allegedly deposited constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She voiced concern at calls by Mr. Goudé and others for attacks against the UN and “non Ivorians,” as well as reports about the marking of homes with ethnic identities, which could be followed by attacks against civilians from certain ethnic groups.

On December 30th Mr. Ban warned against any attempts to attack the Golf Hotel amid fears that renewed violence could plunge the West African country back into civil war, a chapter that the elections were meant to close.

In 2002 the country was split by civil war into a rebel-held north and a Government-controlled south. UNOCI, which has been on the ground since 2003 helping to monitor a ceasefire and promote reunification, has rebuffed Mr. Gbagbo’s demand that it leave following its certification of Mr. Ouattara’s victory.Ms. Pillay’s announcement followed a joint news release by UN human rights experts decrying a litany of reported abuses in the violence that has followed Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office.

Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns cited the number of reported extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and reiterated warnings against the risks of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo cited allegations of sexual violence committed by armed men and called on all parties to do their utmost to prevent such abuses.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, stressing that victims, including relatives of the disappeared, have the rights to justice, redress, truth and reparation, vowed to see that those rights are respected. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that hundreds of people have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested and some taken to illegal centers in what it called “heinous violations” of international human rights law.

Meanwhile, UN agencies are rushing aid to nearly 20,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to neighboring Liberia. The UN refugee agency said it would set up camps and called on the international community to provide more funding, noting that it had pre-positioned aid in the region to assist 30,000 refugees and spent $3 million from its emergency reserves.

“Our teams in Liberia continue to distribute emergency aid across villages where refugees are sheltered,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, listing plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, kerosene, lamps, buckets, soap, mosquito nets and other basic household items. “We will need donor support to keep continuing our aid efforts.”

 The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already airlifted emergency supplies into Liberia as part of a rapid scale up of humanitarian operations, including five metric tons of high energy biscuits.

“We are mobilizing food stocks at a regional and local level to help these people, who are facing a grim start to the New Year,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla said. “These biscuits will provide a welcome nutritional boost to refugees, many of whom have crossed the border with little in the way of food for their families.”

 On December 30th, the Security Council had unanimously adopted a resolution which,

Determining that the situation in Côte d’Ivoire continues to pose a threat to international peace and security in the region,

“Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

“1.   Urges all the Ivorian parties and stakeholders to respect the will of the people and the outcome of the election in view of ECOWAS and African Union’s recognition of Alassane Dramane Ouattara as President-elect of Côte d’Ivoire and representative of the freely expressed voice of the Ivorian people as proclaimed by the Independent Electoral Commission; ***

“3.   Decides to renew the mandate of UNOCI, as set out in resolution 1933 (2010), until 30 June 2011;

“4.   Decides that UNOCI will maintain its total authorized strength at 8,650 personnel, including a maximum of 7,200 troops and staff officers and 192 military observers, and a maximum of 1,250 police personnel and 8 seconded customs officers, as authorized by resolution 1933 (2010), until 30 June 2011;

“5.   Decides to authorize the Secretary-General, further to resolution 1942 (2010), to extend until 31 March 2011 the temporary deployment of up to 500 additional personnel;

“6.   Decides to authorize the Secretary-General, further to resolution 1951 (2010), to extend by up to four additional weeks the temporary redeployment from UNMIL to UNOCI of a maximum of three infantry companies and one aviation unit comprised of two military utility helicopters; * * *

“9.   Condemns the persistence of reported human rights and humanitarian law violations against civilians in different parts of the country, including numerous acts of sexual violence met with impunity, calls upon all Ivorian parties, with the continued support of UNOCI, to ensure the protection of civilians, especially women, children and displaced persons, stresses that the perpetrators must be brought to justice and calls upon all parties to take appropriate measures to refrain from, prevent and protect civilians from all forms of sexual violence and reaffirms paragraphs 14 to 17 of its resolution 1880 (2009); * * *

“12.  Urges all the relevant Ivorian stakeholders to restore without delay the broadcasting of all non-governmental media in Côte d’Ivoire and further urges them to allow equitable and broader access to media and in particular to State media and to refrain from using it to incite the population to hatred, intolerance and violence; * * *

 “16.  Reaffirms its readiness to impose measures, including targeted sanctions, against persons who, among other things, threaten the peace process and national reconciliation, including by seeking to undermine the outcome of the electoral process, obstruct the work of UNOCI and other international actors and commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as set out by Resolution 1946 (2010); * * * ”

Finally, here are two UN photos of the UN Peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, arriving in Côte d’Ivoire and later greeting its newly elected President. Le Roy is a man of considerable stature, both physically and also personally. He recalls in these respects the recently departed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whose untimely death from heart failure was one of the UN’s greatest losses in the year 2010. We who yearn for peace should morn his passing from the world scene.   [photos were shown on a TV show]

That’s all for this January 3rd issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send your own views on these or other UN-related issues to www.unweek.blogspot.com

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