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Violence and xenophobia on the rise in Côte d'Ivoire election campaign

Amnesty International said it is concerned at the resurgence of electoral violence and xenophobia in Côte d'Ivoire, as supporters of the country's president call for tens of thousands of "foreigners" to be excluded from the electoral roll.Opposition parties have denounced calls by supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo to exclude people suspected of being foreign nationals because they bear Muslim family names.President Gbagbo's supporters meanwhile have condemned what they say are fraudulent attempts to add to the electoral roll over 400,000 people whose nationality has not been verified."It is essential to put an end to this xenophobic discourse," said Véronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty International's Africa programme. "It is incumbent on the Head of State to clearly indicate that this incitement to hatred, denounced time and time again by the United Nations, will not be tolerated."The presidential election is to take place this year after being postponed five times since 2005. It is hoped this will put an end to the crisis that began with the September 2002 armed uprising which split the country in two.The current wave of violence across the country is linked to the disputes over the electoral roll, with thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets.The security forces have repressed several demonstrations, particularly in the town of Gagnoa (in the centre-west of the country), where at least five demonstrators were shot dead on 19 February.On 3 February, several thousand protesters took part in marches in the town of Divo, 200km from the economic capital city Abidjan, in an attempt to prevent judges removing them from the electoral roll.The security forces opened fire on the demonstrators to disperse them, leaving eight wounded, including several with bullet wounds.Suspicions of fraudulent attempts to add names to the electoral roll, led President Gbagbo to dissolve the Independent Electoral Commission and the government on 12 February.Some opposition parties then called on their supporters to "oppose the Laurent Gbagbo dictatorship by every means possible". This led to violence and vandalism against premises and goods belonging to the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), Ivorian Popular Front, the Head of State's political party."All the ingredients that led to serious human rights violations in the past are present once again," said Véronique Aubert."With none of the main Ivorian political actors showing any sign of wanting to avoid a deterioration in the situation, it is incumbent on the international community, especially the United Nations and the mediator in the Ivorian crisis, Blaise Compaoré, president of Burkina Faso, to put pressure on all Ivorian politicians to prioritize respect for human rights."The crisis that began with the September 2002 armed uprising, resulted in the de facto partition of the country between the south, controlled by supporters of President Gbagbo and the north, in the hands of the Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) the movement that came out of the armed uprising. Under pressure from the international community, especially the United Nations and its mediator in the Ivorian crisis, Blaise Compaoré, president of Burkina Faso, an Independent Electoral Commission was created and began to prepare the electoral roll.After he dissolved the Independent Electoral Commission and the government on 12 February, President Gbagbo reappointed his prime minister, Guillaume Soro, general secretary of the Forces Nouvelles, and asked him to form a government.Prime Minister Soro announced a new government on Tuesday including main opposition parties and said that a new electoral commission would be installed but so far no consensus has been reached on these two issues.