Côte d’Ivoire: Millions of people living in fear amid crossfire

We are two delegates from Amnesty International, and what we would like to do right now is to document reports of grave human rights violations in Abidjan and in the west of the country where men, women and children are dying needlessly.

However, we cannot leave Abidjan, a city of more than 5 million people just a couple of weeks ago. Many have left now.

A fortnight ago, the bus stations were overcrowded, people were trying to leave the city, cars were full with plastic bags, with suitcases tied to roofs.

People looked desperately sad. Young people were scolded by stressed parents, annoyed by the shouting and jumping of their kids.

The cityhas spent a very long week living in fear amid heavy crossfire between supporters of the outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo and armed forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized President.

Moving around Abidjan remains very difficult because of the security situation. A week ago, Alassane Ouattara’s government proclaimed a curfew lasting from noon until 6 am. People have to stay in their houses and many are lacking food and water. The situation varies greatly from one neighborhood to the other. Some still have water, others don’t and some are more secure than others.

Watching from our hotel window we have noticed that some have dared to go out. The day before yesterday, we saw armed men in uniforms  pointing their guns at civilians. A few minutes later the armed men went back to their position and the civilians ran away, we did not hear any gun shots.

No one knows who these armed men are, and in this chaos, reports of looting and arbitrary executions are rife.

The situation in the hospitals is critical with medical personnel lacking drugs or material to treat patients, or even food for patients.

The situation is critical for pregnant women and new born babies and the humanitarian NGOs present in Abidjan, cannot regularly go to hospitals and other healthcare centres because of the security situation.

For security reasons, we are not allowed to open our window or draw the curtains, however, for a few moments, we have been able to cheat and look through the curtains, the roads often look desolate.

In the hotel, water has been limited as no one knows how long this crisis will last. No one here has been hurt but stress and nervousness are palpable.

Everyday, we hear sporadic firing and shelling and we have had to run into a corridor because of the risk stray bullets. At the weekend, a bullet was fired into our hotel room.

Everyday, we hear and see UN and French helicopters flying across the sky above the city. During a short trip out of the hotel, trying to get on with our research work, we could see the signs of the previous days battle – bullet holes everywhere and some badly destroyed cars. The roads were utterly and totally deserted, except for some soldiers.

We saw a group of civilians walking their hands up in the air, searching for water or food, or seeking safer areas. We also came across three women hiding in a ditch who told us there were snipers further on up the road.

We quickly made it back to our hotel, our safe ground so far.

However, this is not the case for many in Côte d’Ivoire, and we call on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary precautions to avoid more men, women and children to be killed.