Wednesday, September 2, 2020 12:59 pm
Ouattara arms children to crackdown on peaceful demonstrators,as he leaves African Court of Human Rights
By Nicoletta Fagiolo, Rome
On 6 August 2020, Côte d’Ivoire’s Independence Day, current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announced he intended to seek a third five-year term in the upcoming October 2020 election, despite a two-term limit in the country’s Constitution. The country’ has been in turmoil since as weeks of nationwide non-violent demonstrations, now asking Ouattara to step down, are on the rise.
In March 2020 Ouattara had stated he would not run for a third term, a fact for which French President Emmanuel Macron had felicitated him, yet he changed his mind when his party’s, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) chosen Presidential candidate, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died on the 8 of July following a long sickness.
On the 13 of August citizens from all walks of life, civil society organizations, youth organizations, trade unions, the country’s main political parties such as the historic Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), a previous Ouattara alley, to Simone and Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the party that founded the country’s multiparty system and laid the foundations for a modern democratic system,demonstrated nationwide against Ouattara’s decision to run for a third time.
On the 13th of August hundreds of images of the peaceful demonstrations were uploaded in real time on social media websites displaying slogans “no to a third mandate” and “Ouattara step down” from neighborhoods and suburbs across Abidjan – such as Yopougon, Cocody, Marcory, Abobo, Gesco, Port-Bouet- as well as from over 30 cities nationwide:Odienne and Férkessedougouin the north saw people marching, as well asAttobrou, Bonoua, Divo, Soubré, Dougou, Man, Dabou, Zikisso, Zuenoula, Adzopé, Gohitafla, Gouro, Saïoua, Soubre, Bassam, Fresco, Sinfra, Bongouanou, Tiebissou, Diegonefle amongst others.
Faced with a growing visible opposition, an opposition which has been paralyzed by fear since he came to power in 2011, Alassane Ouattara, rather than seeking dialogue, has chosen to again crack down on the civilian population.
In a 18 August 2020 alarming press release by Amnesty International,Côte d’Ivoire: Police allow machete-wielding men to attack protesters, the human rights NGO revealed that police officers in Abidjan are arming groups of young children (knows as microbes) with machetes, knives and heavy sticks to attack, terrorize and kill the protesters, a tactic apparently used by the Ouattara regime to foment havoc, as well as discreditthe peaceful demonstrators and opposition parties.
Video testimonies and statements widely circulating on social media corroborate the Amnesty International report,showing video footage of armed children being transported to various destinations. The armed children are paid up to 250 euro each for carrying out attacks on non-armed civilian demonstrators, various sources say.
Since 13 of August at least 23 people have been killed by gun shots or machete wounds, hundreds are injured and 85 people have been arrested according to Doctor Boga Sako Gervais, President of the Ivorian human rights organization,the Ivorian Foundation for Observation and Surveillance(Fondation Ivoirienne pour l’observation et la surveillance or FIDHOP), who is closely following the events.
“The apparent collaboration of the police with groups of armed men, that are neither trained nor accountable, to manage protests is extremely worrying. It represents an alarming resurgence of the use of unofficial “law enforcement” agents inCôte d’Ivoire, where we have previously documented multiple human rights abuses by armed men in civilian clothes,” said Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa Samira Daoud.
“We call on the Ivorian authorities to immediately stop these armed groups of men from committing further crimes”, Samira Daoud added.
Ivorian Law and social science Professor Martin Bléou openly expressed that for him a third term would be unconstitutional and thus illegal on the part of Ouattara. Bléouis today facing death threats in Côte d’Ivoire and has published an open letter to denounce this behavior by the government,as well as expose his fears and seek international protection.
On August 15thPulchérie Edith Gbalet, coordinator of the NGO
Ivorian citizen alternative(Alternatives CitoyennesIvoiriennes or ACI), who had called for the peaceful demonstration, as well as two of her collaborators Djehi Bi Cyrille and Gbaou Gedeon Junior were arrested. They are accused of breaching public order, participation in an insurrectionary movement, attack on state authority, the willful destruction of public property and crowd provocation. Pulchérie’s lawyers held a press conference where they made know that their client was also fired from her job with state company National Bureau of Technical Studies and Development (Bureau national d’étude technique et de développement or BNED).
On 26 August cyber activist and sympathizer of the Ivorian Popular Front Kaoua Smith was kidnapped by Ouattara’s death squads from his house. He was forcibly grabbedand heavily beaten before being thrown into a vehicle, neighbors testified. His whereabouts are unknow.
Ouattara is using physical intimidation and violence to crackdown on the population as he has for the past two decades, when he first armed the Forces Nouvelles, a 50,000 private army that split the country in two in 2002 and waged a war and regime change to put him in power, backed by France, the USA and the United Nations in March-April 2011.Just in one day the Ouattara forces killed up to 1,000 people in Duékoué, western Côte d’Ivoire, according to the International Red Cross. The International Criminal Court has received a file of over 1,000 victims of this event, yet has not acted upon it preferring to pursue an empty case, the Gbagbo and BléGoudéno case to answer.
Many local testimonies and comments on social media testify that anger against Ouattara now prevails over the fear people have,as Ivorian wish to seek cohesion around a notion of nationhood, rejecting the use of violence (and ethnic division also reinforced by Alassane Ouattara’srattrapage ethniquepolicy(ethnic catching up)whichis exercised in all areas of public administration, even within the national army, creating a deeply divisive atmosphere.
The resistance and civilian uprising have chosen the weapon of non-violence (la révolution à mains nues, empty-handed revolution) following Gandhi’s principles of non-violence as protests spread throughout the country in the last two weeks of August as well asamongst the Ivorian diaspora in major cities worldwide. Up to 10,000 people marched in Paris on the 29th of August 20020.
Since the civilian uprising French President Emmanuel Macron has remained embarrassingly silent and plans to meet with Ouattara, who is currently on holiday in France, in early September. The UN, local embassies in Côte d’Ivoire and the European Union have remained silent or only made vague comments calling for dialogue, without addressing the contested issues.By not taking a stance against the one-sided attacks by the Ouattara regime on the Ivorian population these institutions indirectly allow for such severe human rights abuses to continue with impunity.
On the eve of the 13 of August protests Ivorian Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Sidiki Diakité, announced that the protests had not been formally notified following due process, yet the official notification document was released on social media contradicting his statement.
The Ouattara regime responded by banning all demonstrations till the 15 of September, yet civilians defying the ban continue to demonstrate peacefully throughout the country, claiming that the right to demonstrate is a fundamental right enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
A platform of civil society organizations and opposition parties, including Ouattara’s former allies, have spelled out seven urgent demands to guarantee fair and credible elections: the immediate resignation of the President of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC); the resumption of elections in the local IEC s and the national IEC’s reform as required by the judgment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; an international audit of the official electoral list which a recent report demonstrated has thousands of fraudulent inscriptions which must be addressed; the reintegration of President Laurent Gbagbo, Guillaume Soro and Charles Blé Goudé in the electoral list (all three were removed from the electoral list on the grounds that they were sentence by the Ouattara regimein absentiato 20 year prison sentence); the release of all political, civil and military prisoners; the safe return of over 200,000 refugees; Ouattara’s withdrawal from the 2020 Presidential race.
What the street protestors and opposition parties are demanding is also embraced by two recent African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights judgements which called for urgent reforms in both the national Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)as well as the local IECsin 2016 and 2020.The African Court denounced the balance of power that still favors the ruling party, which would keep control over these key electoral management bodies.This impartiality is unable to secure credible elections in 2020 according to the African Court.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as well as the local IEC’s in their current functioning and composition were found to be breaching both the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, as well as well as the 2001 Ecowas Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
In July this year the African Court ruled that the Ivorian local electoral commissions in Côte d’Ivoireare not independent nor impartial since the vast majority of the 558 local commissions are chaired by Ouattara’s RDR party, according to official statistics.The African Court had ruled in 2016 that the country’s national electoral commission was also not independent, and urged the Ivorian government to reform it if credible and fair elections are to be held.
Ouattara responded by leaving the African Court of Human Rights in April 2020. Yet the African Court’s rulings are valid up to a year after an official withdrawal.
Protestors and opposition parties are also calling for an independent audit of the current electoral list because after an analyses it features problematic entries: voters with no family; voters who have long deceased; voters who are just one year old; the same voters who appear in up to thirteen different cities are some of the anomalies found. An abnormal surge in numbers of voters since the last elections in 2015, up to 175% in some areas, are other examples of severe irregularities found.
Thousands of refugees are stranded in Côte d’Ivoire’s neighboring countries and are now suffering severe malnutrition, as UNHCR terminated nutritional assistance since 2015 they face further difficulties since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic. Many testified recently that they fear returning home if acquitted former President Laurent Gbagbo and former youth Minister Charles BléGoudé do not return first. Their fears are justified if one looks at the long list of refugee returnees arrested.
Their hope of return has been high since the ICC Judges acquitted Laurent Gbagbo and Charles BléGoudéin January 2019 of all charges and asked for their immediate release on humanitarian grounds, as they had spent too much time behind bars as innocent people. The ICC Judges also underlined that Gbagbo during the post-election crisis in 2010-11 was a responsible President who cared for his people and always acted on the defensive trying to protect the population which was attacked by Ouattara’s forces. The ICC Judges pointed to the omission of the patterns of violence on the ground in the Prosecutor’s “one-sided Manichean narrative” as one of the main shortcomings of the trial proceedings.
Laurent Gbagbo istoday still blocked in Belgium and Charles BléGoudé in Holland although all restrictions to their freedoms were lifted by the ICC in May 2020. The Ouattara regime refuses to grant Gbagbo a diplomatic or even an ordinary passport which he has been asking via his lawyers since the 6 of June this year.The Ouattara regime keeps responding that the request is being treated, his lawyer stated in a press release.
The Ouattara regime had also taken the candidacy of Laurent Gbagbo off the 2020 electoral list on the grounds that he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in absentia, as former Youth Minister Charles BléGoudé and exiled former political leader of the Force Nouvelles Guillaume Soro.
According to a wide range of politicians from the Ivorian political arena, to human rights activists and civilians the exclusion of these main figures from Ivorian electoral politics are steps which do not allow for the development of reconciliation and amuch-needed climate of appeasement. The Catholic Church also made an official statement on the 30th of August calling for the respect of the lawbefore the holding of elections, so they can be credible and fair.
Thousands of demonstrations denouncing the illegal reasons for Gbagbo’s exclusion marched on the 31 of August 2020 to the IEC to accompany Laurent Gbagbo’slegal deposition to run for President as the chosen candidate of the political platform, Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (Ensemble pour la Démocratie et la Souveraineté or EDS).
Alassane Ouattara’s dictatorship has been bolstered by the nine-year kangaroo trial at the International Criminal Court which has ended up polarizing Ivorian society and whitewashed Ouattara’s severe human rights crimes. A network of journalists, NGOs, think tanks and academics,acting as regime change advocates, writing to justifythe banalization of war in foreign affairs, continue to omit easily available factual data and sound sources.
A recent Agence France Press (AFP) dispatch, disturbingly not acknowledging two decades of Ivorian history and years of an international trial, acts as an echo chamber of the French Foreign Ministry viewpoint, still persisting in publishing smear campaigns targeting the opposition party Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and democratic leaders such as Simone and Laurent Gbagbo. The country-wide civilian uprising is erroneously depicted by main stream media as an escalating “ethnic” or “civil“war and not what it is, an international war since 2002. Real time video evidence uploaded on social media, radio shows, debates, demonstrations, open letters, songs and articles debunk this dystopian fabricated narrative, tellingquite a different story: one of neocolonialism, imperialism and grass roots independence struggles.
Regional organizations such as ECOWAS rather than coming to the help of democratization processes such as the recent people’s revolution in Mali, tend to act in their turn as echo chambers of French neo colonial policy and strangle – via sanctions, monetary policies and the media- authentic second independence struggles currently unfolding on the continent.
Hopefully this time round the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)member states and the African Union member states will stand up for what is advantageous for the entire continent, people’s revolutions which aspire to nationhood based on democratic principles, which reject violence as a form of government by non-violent means.
* Fagiolo is an Italian filmmaker who works for national and international TV channels writing and producing reportage and documentaries.