Ivory Coast: Wells thought to be mass graves must be excavated - New report

The government of Ivory Coast must excavate wells thought to be mass graves containing victims of an attack on a displaced persons camp last year, Amnesty International said in a report published today.

The 28-page report, entitled “It looks like nothing happened here: Still no justice one year after Nahibly camp attack, contains testimonies from survivors and calls on the Ivorian government to establish an international commission of inquiry into the atrocity.

In July last year the Nahibly camp, home to an estimated 2,500 internally displaced people (IDPs) who had fled post-election violence in the west of the country, was attacked and destroyed by a large crowd.

The mob included members of the local population as well as Dozos – a state-sponsored militia – and elements of the Ivorian army. Most of the IDPs belonged to the Guere ethnic group, generally perceived to be supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

Amnesty estimates that at least 14 people were summarily killed during the attack but the exact figure is not known. A number of others were subjected to enforced disappearance. Six corpses were exhumed from one well in last October but a further 11 wells in the area, believed to contain bodies, have not yet been excavated.

Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s Researcher on West Africa, said:

“One year on, and despite repeated promises to ensure justice, the Ivorian government has made no substantial progress in investigating the crimes committed during this attack.

“It is inhumane that those who lost loved ones are still waiting to find out where the bodies of their relatives are, and that those responsible are still walking free.”

Eleven wells in the area of the attack are being guarded around the clock by UN peacekeepers and police officers but no official attempt has been made to excavate them. The government has cited a lack of equipment and materials but has reportedly not accepted the UN’s offer of support.

Amnesty spoke to a local human rights defender who has lowered himself into three of the wells on a rope and ascertained that each contains at least one body.

Another human rights defender, who could not be named for security reasons, told Amnesty:

“If the bodies of the people down the wells were supporters of the government, they would have recovered the corpses months ago. But because these are bodies from Nahibly and are accused of being Gbagbo supporters, they do nothing.”

Autopsies on the six corpses found in the first well have reportedly been carried out. However, nine months later, the results have still not been shared with the families of those who died, and the bodies have not been returned.

Background

The violence that followed the November 2010 election in Ivory Coast resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of people primarily on the grounds of their ethnicity or perceived political affiliation.

Both forces loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo and those aligned to current President Alassane Ouattara committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in breach of international law.

Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court.

In March and April 2011 when the FRCI and Dozos took control of Ivory Coast during the post-election violence, they massacred hundreds of Gueres in Duekoue and the surrounding area.

These attacks have never been adequately investigated and no one has ever been charged or tried.

Salvatore Saguès said:

“In a clear case of victor’s justice, the government has failed to hold any members of the FRCI or the Dozo militia accountable for any of the crimes committed during the post-election crisis.”

“This is all the more worrying because these same security forces and Dozos have continued to commit human rights abuses against known or suspected supporters of the former president, as evidenced by the attack on Nahibly.”

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