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Atrocity Alert No. 227: Côte d’Ivoire, Myanmar (Burma) and Democratic Republic of the Congo

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DISPUTED ELECTION IN CÔTE D’IVOIRE RESULTS IN DEADLY VIOLENCE

On 31 October Côte d’Ivoire held presidential elections. According to local authorities, election-day clashes involving political supporters of incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, security forces and opposition protesters left at least nine people dead and many more wounded. A ruling party official reported that two of its supporters were killed in Toumodi on Tuesday evening while houses and shops were also set on fire during clashes between supporters of rival political groups.

In the weeks leading up to the election, the main opposition candidates – former President Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan – called for a boycott and a civil disobedience campaign. A domestic observer mission reported that 23 percent of polling places were unable to open on election day due to threats to election staff, vandalization of voting materials and barricaded roads.

On Monday, 2 November, Bédié and N’Guessan declared that they no longer recognize Ouattara as president of the country and announced the creation of a “National Transitional Council,” chaired by Bédié. Nevertheless, on Tuesday the Independent Electoral Commission announced that President Ouattara had won a third term (which many consider unconstitutional) with 94 percent of the vote. The Constitutional Council will validate the results and declare the final winner after hearing any challenges or complaints of irregularities.

Following Ouattara’s controversial announcement during August of his decision to seek a third term, the election campaign was marred by sporadic ethnic violence, increased hate speech aimed at manipulating ethnic differences for political ends and heightened political tensions. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted a disturbing increase in violence against protesters by security forces and unidentified individuals. Thirty people were killed in pre-election violence and inter-communal clashes. According to the UN Refugee Agency, approximately 3,200 Ivorians have also fled to Liberia, Ghana and Togo due to fear of post-election violence.

Disputed election outcomes have previously served as a trigger for atrocities in Côte d’Ivoire, notably when more than 3,000 people were killed following President Ouattara’s election in 2010, when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept electoral defeat and cede power. The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, has stressed that, “the violence seen in Côte d’Ivoire during the first pre- and post-election crisis of 2010 must not be repeated. Violence by any side of the political divide is not an option.”

All political leaders in Côte d’Ivoire must refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric and inciting violence against anyone on the basis of their political affiliation or ethnic identity. The Ivorian authorities must ensure that all human rights violations and abuses during the election period are thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable, regardless of political affiliation.

ETHNIC MINORITIES DENIED RIGHT TO VOTE IN MYANMAR’S ‘DEMOCRATIC’ ELECTIONS

This Sunday, 8 November, Myanmar will hold its second general election since the end of military rule in 2011. However, the enduring influence of the military on political life and the disenfranchisement of the minority Rohingya population, as well as ongoing discriminatory laws and policies, have led to claims that the elections will not be free, fair or democratic.

In addition to discriminatory policies aimed at denying the Rohingya population the right to vote, Myanmar’s Election Commission has also cancelled or restricted voting in more than 50 townships across Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states, as well as the Bago Region. These measures have disenfranchised up to two million people, mostly members of ethnic minority groups. The spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said that, “the Commission did not provide public justification for its decision” and that the such action “curtails the right to political participation in areas with ethnic minority populations in a discriminatory fashion.”

In a 2 November press statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, warned that the elections will not be free and fair as long as the Myanmar government is “enforcing laws that undermine the very lifeblood of democracy, and the right to vote is denied based on race, ethnicity or religion as it is with the Rohingya.” The Special Rapporteur also raised concern regarding a voter information app provided by the Election Commission that identifies the race and religion of candidates, problematically labeling Rohingya candidates as “Bengali,” despite the International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar determining that the “term is used as a tool of ‘systematic oppression and persecution.’”

Myanmar’s 2015 elections brought hope that the formation of a civilian government under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi would restore democracy and respect the human rights of all Myanmar’s diverse ethnic populations. Instead, in late 2017 Myanmar’s security forces committed genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has personally defended Myanmar at the International Court of Justice against accusations that it has violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s election, that case and the struggle for human rights in Myanmar will continue.

ADF MILITIA ATTACKS REMOTE VILLAGES IN DR CONGO

On 28 October suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia raided Baiti village in Beni territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), killing 19 civilians and setting fire to 40 houses. Two days later members of the ADF raided three other villages in Beni, killing 21 civilians in Lisasa, and reportedly destroying a health center. ADF fighters also desecrated the local Catholic church.

Last Saturday, 31 October, marked one year since the DRC government launched an offensive against the ADF in North Kivu province. Over the past year the group has retaliated by attacking and killing vulnerable civilians in remote villages. According to the Kivu Security Project, last week’s attacks bring the total number of civilians killed in North Kivu by the ADF since the beginning of the offensive to at least 659. In recent months the ADF has splintered and some of its members have also perpetrated attacks in neighboring Ituri province. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their villages over the past year, contributing to the more than 3.4 million people displaced in North Kivu and Ituri alone.

Noting that attacks by the ADF have been “systematic and brutal,” the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) has said that these may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes. According to a July report by UNJHRO, “in the majority of cases, the means and the modus operandi of the attacks indicate a clear intention to leave no survivors. Entire families have been hacked to death.”

DRC’s security forces have also been implicated in abuses committed against civilians living in conflict-affected regions of the country. On 30 October UNJHRO reported that the proportion of human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by the armed forces of the DRC and national police significantly increased during September. The security forces were responsible for 46 percent of human rights violations and abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings.

The DRC government and the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by the ADF and other armed groups. MONUSCO should continue to bolster its rapid reaction capacity in the Beni area.