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U.N. Threatens Ivorian Leaders With Possible War Crimes

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2010 (IPS) - The United Nations has warned the beleaguered president of Cote d’Ivoire and his military leaders that they may well go the way of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir: face charges of war crimes and genocide before the international criminal court.

As it heads for a showdown, the world body has raised its political stakes against President Laurent Gbagbo whose administration is being held responsible for the killings of over 200 people, mostly civilians, in the aftermath of last month’s presidential elections which he lost.

“The international criminal justice system that has developed over the past 15 or so years has given us a tool of accountability we did not have before,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Friday.

“No longer can heads of state, and other actors, be sure they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” she said, taking a passing shot at Gbagbo.

Since most of the killings are taking place perhaps with the connivance of the military, she has singled out by name three top military leaders who could be liable for war crimes prosecution: the Commanders of the Ivorian Republican Guard (General Bruno Ble Dogbo), the Marines (Rear Admiral Vagba Faussignaux) and the Security Operations Command Centre (General Georges Guiai Bi Poin).

In letters to the military leaders this week, described as an unusual step, Pillay reminded all three of their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

These include a responsibility to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting, instigating or standing by in tacit approval of human rights violations; to prevent subordinates from committing these violations, and to punish those who have done so.

“I must also warn persons who, as subordinates, receive instructions, directions and orders to commit human violations,” Pillay added.

“They, too, have a direct individual criminal responsibility for their actions and omissions. It is no excuse that they may have been merely carrying out orders, directions or instructions from above,” she added.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) could either bring charges on its own volition or be authorised to do so by the 15-member U.N. Security Council (as in the case of al-Bashir, because Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the ICC).

The victorious candidate at the presidential elections, Alassane Ouattara – a former senior official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – is being strongly backed by the United Nations and several regional bodies, including the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union (EU).

But the defeated president continues to cling onto power with the backing of the country’s military force numbering over 30,000.

The mediation efforts by African leaders have so far failed to convince Gbagbo to leave office.

But ECOWAS, with strong backing from the AU, has threatened to intervene militarily to oust Gbagbo: an action that could possibly trigger a civil war in the country.

Meanwhile, Pillay has also complained to the military leaders about the threats and attacks on both the U.N. peacekeeping force and at the U.N. Office in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

She also said she has received reports of at least two mass graves. However, U.N. human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them.

“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 warned.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said early this week he is “deeply alarmed” to learn of the call by Ble Goude on the so called Young Patriots to attack, beginning next week, the Golf Hotel in Abidjan – home to both U.N. civilian staff and peacekeeping troops.

He said UNOCI has a significant number of military and police personnel deployed to provide security for the Government of Cote d’Ivoire and key political stakeholders, in keeping with its mandate as set out in Security Council resolution 1962.

Ban also stressed that UNOCI is authorised to use all necessary means to protect its personnel, as well as the government officials and other civilians at the hotel.

The secretary-general therefore wishes to warn that any attack against peacekeepers constitutes “a crime under international law, for which the perpetrators and those who instigate them will be held accountable”.

The 15-member Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful political body, has not only reiterated its support for “the constructive role of the secretary- general” but also condemned in “the strongest terms” the acts of violence against U.N. peacekeepers – numbering over 9,100 – stationed in Cote d’Ivoire.

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