COTE D'IVOIRE: The UN feeling blue - Briefing
Laurent Gbagbo standing firm
DAKAR, 7 January 2011 (IRIN) - IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010. Both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are laying claim to the presidency, with Gbagbo refusing to yield to international pressure to step down. The series takes a look at the UN’s position
, issues of human rights
, as well as the stances of the African Union
, western governments
and the EU and World Bank
Turning up the heat
Three weeks after Laurent Gbagbo ordered the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) out of the country, the UN is asking for an additional 2,000 peacekeepers. The request was announced by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy, after a closed door Security Council meeting and will require another resolution.
ONUCI’s current mandate, renewed in December, has been extended until the end of June, but the mission’s role looks to be becoming ever more complicated. Le Roy’s own account of his recent visit to Côte d’Ivoire acknowledged that ONUCI’s work was in danger of being compromised by security problems and the continuing hostility from supporters of Laurent Gbagbo. While in Abidjan, Le Roy fiercely emphasised ONUCI’s impartiality and hinted at the negative impact of manipulative propaganda.
ONUCI itself has spoken out against what it describes as a “hostile media campaign” being run by the Gbagbo-run Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI). ONUCI’s concerns focus in particular on recent reports on RTI implicating UN troops in shooting incidents in the Abidjan district of Abobo.
While Special Representative Young Jin Choi says he is in contact with Gbagbo, the UN has expressed anger and frustration at the accusations leveled against it.
From indifference to hostility - Gbagbo turns on the UN
Viewed from both ONUCI’s headquarters in Abidjan and from New York, the Ivorian elections and their aftermath were seen by UN insiders as inherently problematic. The Secretary-General’s report on Côte d’Ivoire on 23 November - issued between rounds of voting - described the overall security situation as “stable but still fragile”, and warned of key unfinished elements in the peace process, including disarmament and reunification. It noted that the first round of voting had gone ahead in a “generally peaceful and orderly manner”.
But within days of the second round of voting, the UN was being demonized by Gbagbo and his supporters. The clear endorsement in Abidjan and New York of the provisional results released by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) - and the circumstances in which they had been made public, in a hotel hosting Ouattara and his supporters, with the event carried on French news channels - led to immediate accusations of bias and conspiracy. Outraged at the UN’s failure to abide by a ruling from the Conseil Constitutionel giving the election to Gbagbo, Gbagbo’s diplomatic adviser, Alcide Djédjé, went on state TV to threaten the UN Special Representative with expulsion, warning: “we will never accept a civil servant behaving that way in a sovereign country”.
Since endorsing Ouattara, the UN has issued a series of appeals to Gbagbo to step down. In common with the European Union (EU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the USA and others, the UN’s rhetoric has become increasingly forceful, but the international body has been inclined to let other parties, notably ECOWAS and the African Union, try to persuade Gbagbo to quit office. At the same time, the UN has acknowledged the dangers of a complete breakdown. The UN Security Council Update Report issued on 7 December highlighted the importance of “preventing the tense security situation from igniting a return to civil war - or even worse - the outbreak of mass atrocities based on ethnic divisions”.
Staying on regardless
With UN agencies having scaled down and NGOs more focused on development than humanitarian contingency planning, ONUCI has not been well placed to deal with a major crisis. As the propaganda war between the Gbagbo and Ouattara camps has got worse and the scope for constructive dialogue receded, ONUCI’s efforts to lower the political temperature have been overshadowed by constant accusations from the Gbagbo camp of partiality and worse. ONUCI failed to persuade Ouattara’s supporters to call off a march on RTI on 16 December. But this snub was nothing compared to the abuse heaped on ONUCI in the government’s televised request for ONUCI to leave the country, broadcast on 18 December. The text delivered on air accused ONUCI of the following:
Clear bias in the handling of elections, with the UN deliberately ignoring well-founded reports of serious abuses in Forces Nouvelles’ areas during the elections; disparaging African election observers and their conclusions; overriding the Conseil Constitutionel and its attempts to pronounce on the elections; supplying arms and ammunition to fighters of the former rebel movement Forces Nouvelles for attacks on different locations in the west, and allowing the same combatants to don blue helmets and UN uniforms to stage an attack on security forces outside Ouattara’s Golf Hotel headquarters. The same communiqué accused UN radio ONUCI FM of being a vehicle for propaganda for Ouattara and his allies and of inciting hatred and destabilization. The request for France to withdraw its troops was almost lost amidst the diatribe against ONUCI.
The UN’s swift rejection of this demarche has won praise from Washington and elsewhere. UN Security Council Resolution 1962 passed on 20 December condemned “in the strongest possible terms the attempts to usurp the will of the people and undermine the integrity of the electoral process”. The Resolution also noted the “persistence of reported human rights and humanitarian law violations against civilians”, and warned against media being used “to incite the population to hatred, intolerance and violence”. The Resolution finally urged the UN to “facilitate, as appropriate, political dialogue between the Ivoirian stakeholders”, but there has been little to show from any efforts on this front.
ONUCI’s military presence for now has become primarily associated with the defence of the Golf Hotel, with 800 blue helmets stationed outside, waiting to see if long-standing threats to invade from Gbagbo’s hardline Jeunes Patriotes supporters and others will turn into reality.
Sources: United Nations, Radio Télévision Ivoirienne, UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire