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Press briefing note: (1) Côte d’Ivoire, (2) Tunisia, (3) Egypt, (4) Syria, (5) Bahrain

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
25 March 2011

(1) Côte d’Ivoire

Since Thursday last week, at least 52 more people have been killed in Côte d’Ivoire, including 5 children and 7 women. We estimate that the death toll since mid-December has now reached at least 462. Our office in Côte d’Ivoire has also received allegations – as yet unconfirmed – that an additional 200 nationals of ECOWAS member states (including people from Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea and Togo) have been killed in the Guiglo area in the western part of the country. Our office is investigating these specific allegations. However, there are clear indications that West African nationals – principally those from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria – have continued to be subjected to targeted attacks.

In general, we are extremely concerned about the worsening situation, particularly given the continuing incitement by the outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo and the leader of the Young Patriots, Blé Goude, who have called on the youth in the country to join the army and “liberate the country” from their opponents.  At least 5,000 young people this week queued up to enlist in the army.  This is a worrying development with potentially severe implications for the already deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

Human rights officers in Côte d’Ivoire have also interviewed a number of victims who were abducted, robbed and had their homes raided by armed men believed to be elements of the Republican Guard and the Young Patriots. Politically-motivated human rights violations and abuses continue, with residences of pro-Gbagbo individuals also raided, ransacked and burnt down, reportedly by RHDP youth and the Forces nouvelles armed group which support President Ouattara.

Our office reports that armed groups on both sides have been implementing a new modus operandi in their attacks against civilians: typically this involves armed men in civilian cars indiscriminately firing or launching grenades at civilians, so far principally in the Boribana, Abobo, Attécoubé, Williamsville and Yopougon neighborhoods of Abidjan.  To give one example of this sort of attack: Akekoi, a village predominantly inhabited by the Attié ethnic group, who are perceived to be pro-Gbagbo, was raided by armed men aboard a white 4x4 vehicle this week, leading to one civilian death.

We have also documented continuing attacks by the FDS on Adjamé, Williamsville, Port Bouet II and Attécoubé neighbourhoods in Abidjan, which appear to be aimed at arresting Ouattara supporters. Those carrying out these attacks encircle the area, conduct raids, and usually kill a number of people and destroy property.

(2) Tunisia

The High Commissioner has decided to open a country office in Tunisia at the request of the interim Government. This will be our second office in the region (we currently have an office in Mauritania). A Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted and funding is being sought for the new office.

The High Commissioner has already deployed one international human rights officer to Tunisia to follow up on the recommendations made by our senior experts after their assessment mission in early February.  A second human rights officer is due to arrive in the country next week.

(3) Egypt

The High Commissioner is also deploying a high-level mission to Egypt on Sunday. The five-member team, led by Anders Kompass, the head of our field operations and technical cooperation division, is scheduled to meet members of the Supreme Army Council, a number of ministers, and prominent judges, including the state general prosecutor, lawyers, human rights defenders, members of youth groups and other civil society actors. Concrete recommendations will then be made to the High Commissioner on our future engagement in the country.

FUNDING FOR OPERATIONS IN NORTH AFRICA: As some of you have suggested, we have indeed been very stretched by all the developments in North Africa and the Middle East over the past few months. As a result, we will be issuing an appeal to governments very shortly asking for around USD 7 million to cover a range of activities in the region, including the office in Tunisia, the establishment up of a regional office for North Africa as well as for the Commission of Inquiry for Libya, that was set up by the Human Rights Council last month. We will put out a separate press release on this when the appeal is sent out.

(4) Syria

The situation in Syria has worsened considerably over the past week, with the use of live ammunition and teargas by the authorities having resulted in a total of at least 37 people being killed in Daraa, including two children. We welcome the decision to investigate the killings and reiterate our call for this investigation to be independent and impartial; those responsible for the killings must be held accountable.  We also welcome the release of those associated with the protests in Daraa, and hope that all human rights defenders and political activists throughout Syria, who have also reportedly been arrested, will also be released without delay.

The Government yesterday announced a set of political and economic reforms to be taken forward, including holding consultations that aim at ending the state of emergency that has been in place since 1963. This is also welcome news and we will be closely monitoring the speedy and effective implementation of such reforms. 

(5) Bahrain (in response to a question)

The High Commissioner yesterday met members of the Permanent Mission of Bahrain and reiterated her call to the authorities to exercise restraint. We understand that a fresh wave of mass protests has been announced for today and urge the Government not to use force against peaceful demonstrators.