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A Massacre in Côte d’Ivoire

On March 29, at least 800 people were killed in the western Ivorian town of Duékoué, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which did not offer further details on the violence, except to say that it appeared to be intercommunal. It remains unclear who committed the violence. Numerous corpses are strewn throughout the neighborhood; an estimated 250 displaced children are living in the surrounding forest; and more than 15,000 displaced people continue to seek safety inside the confines of the Roman Catholic mission in Duékoué.

Hiding under a table as shooting could be heard nearby, the priest at the mission reported, just before the massacre, that many of those arriving for refuge were migrants from other West African countries who had been working in the surrounding cocoa plantations. In the last decade, the ideology of Ivorian exclusivity – defining who is and is not Ivorian – has haunted politics in the nation, and immigrants and the descendants of immigrants have been particularly vulnerable to state-sponsored attacks and discrimination.

The massacre in Duékoué follows a violent month in Côte d’Ivoire, as pro-Ouattara forces advance against those loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down from the presidency despite losing an election to the internationally recognized Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara’s forces now stand posed to take Abidjan, the country’s main city, and fighting in the city has displaced thousands and left those who remain without food, water, or electricity.

On March 22, Ivorian militias and Liberian mercenaries loyal to Gbagbo killed at least 37 West African immigrants in a village near the border with Liberia. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed men massacred the villagers, “presumed to be Ouattara supporters, possibly in retaliation for the capture of nearby areas by pro-Ouattara forces.”

Human rights abuses against civilians have been committed on all sides. Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Ouattara, and urged him to investigate the deaths in Duékoué, for which his forces may partly be responsible.