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The following statement was issued by Dr. Walter Kälin, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, in Abidjan yesterday:

The internally displaced have largely been forgotten during the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, according to the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kälin, who visited the country from 17 to 24 April.

“Côte d’Ivoire is facing a protection crisis in terms of the human rights of the internally displaced”, said the Representative. This was mainly due to the lack of an adequate response to their needs and the lack of knowledge of their rights.

“Côte d’Ivoire has been in conflict for over three years, and this is the main cause of displacement for the population,” said Dr. Kälin, adding that conflicts over land in rural areas, particularly in the west and the south of the country, have also caused major displacement. The conflicts seem to trap the population into displacement cycles, where each community is forced to flee one after another.

“It is now time to act”, said the Representative. He said he was satisfied with the fact that the authorities were taking the question of internally displaced persons seriously, but that he was worried that this intent was not being followed by concrete action. He called on the authorities and humanitarian organizations to draft without further delay a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges of internal displacement in the country as well as a detailed plan of action to improve the current situation of the internally displaced. He also requested the donor community to support a long-term strategy, which is the only option for durable solutions to the internal displacement crisis.

The Representative recommended that a law providing for indemnities be adopted as soon as possible.

The Representative of the Secretary-General also expressed his preoccupation with the state of destitution in which many of the displaced persons are forced to live. These difficulties are mainly linked to obstructed access to food, education and to health services. The vulnerability of the internally displaced is heightened by the fact that in many cases they do not have documents to prove their identity and are often victims of racketeering and corruption. The Representative also pointed out that he was worried that too many children, the future of the nation, were facing particular difficulties, for instance in receiving birth certificates. He had also been made aware of cases of children exploited for prostitution or as agricultural labour in the plantations.

Dr. Kälin noted with interest that the majority of the internally displaced had been accepted by host families and commended the spirit of generosity and solidarity of the Ivorian people. However, he pointed out to the growing impoverishment of large sectors of the population who had taken up the displaced without any assistance from the authorities or from the international humanitarian organizations. The continued insecurity both in the areas of origin as well as in the areas to which the displaced persons have fled to is an additional source of preoccupation. In fact, these displaced persons, who have had to flee their places of origin for reasons mainly linked to growing physical insecurity, have throughout their displacement, become victims of serious human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict as well as by other actors. Furthermore, they have been also fallen prey to racketeering and corruption. Cases of targeted assassinations, torture and sexual violence have also been reported.

The Representative of the Secretary-General therefore called on the Government and on the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) to assume their responsibilities and to undertake the necessary actions to guarantee the safety and security of the people and their belongings throughout the territory.

During this first mission to Côte d’Ivoire the Representative of the Secretary-General met with the governmental authorities responsible for questions linked to internal displacement. He spoke with the Minister for National Reconciliation et of Relations with Institutions, with the Minster of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Solidarity and the War Victims, the Minster of Reconstruction and Reintegration, as well as with the representatives of international organisations and with several organisations representing the internally displaced persons themselves. After a series of meetings in Abidjan, he travelled to the interior of the country to gain a better understanding of the concrete difficulties the internally displaced persons face. In this context he travelled to Yamoussoukro, Guiglo, Daloa, San Pedro, Tabou and Bouaké.

For use of the information media; not an official record