Human Rights Council follows up to special sessions on Cote d'Ivoire & Libya


(Cet article est également disponible en français).


(Cet article est également disponible en français).

On 14 March 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) considered follow-up to its special sessions on Côte d’Ivoire and on Libya, and started its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

The Deputy High Commissioner and many States expressed concern about developments in both Libya and Cote d'Ivoire. The Council's response to both situations is similar. Faced with the complicated political situation in both countries, the Council's response to date relies on gathering more information about the scope and nature of the human rights violations committed. Particularly in the case of Cote d'Ivoire, it was welcome to see a large number of States addressing violations committed by forces loyal to both sides of the political divide. An international commission of inquiry, already created in the case of Libya, looks set to be created for Cote d'Ivoire at the end of the Council's 16th session. 

Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) is leading informal consultations on a draft resolution on Cote d’Ivoire. The commission of inquiry foreseen by the draft would investigate violations following the Presidential elections in 2010. While earlier drafts had focused largely on violations committed by forces loyal to outgoing President Gbagbo, the current version takes a broader approach and would cover all violations.

Commission of inquiry on Cote d'Ivoire enjoys broad support

Speaking on behalf of the High Commissioner, Ms Kyung-wha Kang (UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights) presented the OHCHR report on the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, covering the developments until 31 January 2011. The report described the drastic deterioration of the humanitarian and the human rights situation in the context of the post-election crisis, referring to numerous instances of extrajudicial killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, harassment and intimidation, and other forms of human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces and armed groups allied to Mr Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan and other parts of the country. Ms Kang stated that in addition to the general climate of violence, the protracted crisis combined with the imposition of economic sanctions have had severe consequences on the freedom of movement and access to basic social services, and has particularly affected the rights to health and education. Given the risk of resurgence of civil war, the Deputy High Commissioner urged all parties to show utmost restraint to prevent an escalation of violence and to resolve their differences peacefully.

Speaking on behalf of the concerned country, Mr Ahoussou-Kouadio (Minister of Justice and Human Rights of incoming President Alassane Ouattara) highlighted widespread organised crime as well as new forms of violence including looting and vandalising by the tribal forces of Laurent Gbagbo, and called for an international commission of inquiry to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights violations.

While commending the Council’s ‘prompt decision’ to hold a special session on Côte d’Ivoire on 23 December 2010, many speakers urged the international community to pay continuous attention to the deteriorating situation on the ground. Many called for the rapid establishment of an international commission of inquiry, as proposed in the report submitted by the High Commissioner (Hungary (on behalf of EU), Slovenia, Portugal, UK, France, Canada, Republic of Korea, Chile, Namibia, Egypt, US, Brazil, and Switzerland). Some speakers commended the mediation initiatives by the African Union (AU) and called upon all parties to comply with the decisions made in the process (Brazil, Republic of Korea, Chile, Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Namibia, Egypt, Turkey, and Germany). Some States focused mainly on systematic acts of violence undertaken by the armed groups allied to Mr Gbagbo (US, France, UK) and repeatedly called for the former ‘illegitimate’ government to step down. Others highlighted grave violations of human rights on all sides of the conflict, and the urgent need to prioritise combating widespread impunity (Brazil, Japan, Ghana, Republic of Korea, Chile, Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Slovenia, Portugal). The Russian Federation referred to the ‘alarming situation’ in the wake of 2010 elections, but stressed that the electoral processes in any sovereign State pertain to that State only, and the resulting crisis should be solved by its own citizens.

Other issues raised during the meeting included deteriorating humanitarian circumstances of internally displaced persons (IDPs), threats against the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and its staff, recruitment of minors and the use of human-shields on both sides of the conflict, and propaganda by the media and incitement to hate.

Deteriorating situation in Libya

Ms Kyung-wha Kang also updated the Council on the deterioration of the human rights situation in Libya. Ms Kang noted that the League of Arab States has appealed to the UN to impose a no-fly zone to protect civilian populations (a move since approved by the Security Council. She also expressed concern about accounts received by OHCHR of cases of summary execution, rape, torture, and enforced disappearances. Further OHCHR remains concerned over the massive circulation of weapons throughout the territory and the ‘potential of such weapons to reach the wrong hands’.

The Deputy High Commissioner strongly condemned attacks on Libyan and foreign journalists, highlighting the brutal killing of Al Jazeera Cameraman Ali Hassan Al-Jaber, who was ambushed in Libya on 12 March. This follows similar condemnation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the arbitrary detention and torture of a BBC news team. Ms Kang highlighted the current refugee situation. Over 200,000 people have escaped Libya to neighbouring countries while 20,000 people remain trapped at the borders. Finally, she noted that Mr Abdel-Elah Mohamed Al Khatib, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Libya, along with a senior official from OHCHR, were on their way to Tripoli.

While most States praised the Council’s swift action to convene the special session and call for sanctions, the Maldives noted that despite the international community's actions, the Libyan authorities had intensified their attacks against their own people. The Maldives strongly supported a more proactive approach by the international community and called for international intervention in the form of a no-fly zone. While the call for a no-fly zone was also supported by Jordan and Israel, the Russian Federation and Turkey both strongly expressed resistance to further action, stating that foreign or armed intervention should be avoided and foreign activity in Libya should be limited to humanitarian aid.

Most States however were silent on the issue of international intervention in the form of a no-fly zone. Since then, the Security Council has – after days of deliberations – authorised a no-fly zone and other measures necessary to protect the civilian population in Libya. Resolution 1973 was introduced by Lebanon, the Security Council's only Arab member, and strongly supported by France and Britain. On 18 March, it was passed with 10 votes in favour, with Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India abstaining).

Other measures discussed during the follow-up to the special session include the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, which was supported by Hungary (on behalf of the EU), France, United States, Norway, Italy, Japan and Portugal. Finally, the announcement that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will launch an official investigation into the human rights violations occurring in Libya and hold individuals accountable for their role in committing such violations was widely supported (Hungary (on behalf of the EU), the UK, France, the US, Norway, Jordan and Slovenia).