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Press Conference by Côte d'ivoire

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

18 May 2004

The report of the commission of inquiry sent to Côte d’Ivoire by the High Commissioner for Human Rights did not honestly or rigorously describe the regrettable events of 25 and 26 March, that country’s Permanent Representative told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.

While the Ivorian authorities were not denying that people had been killed on 25 and 26 March in Abidjan, they were just saying that the inquiry had not been conducted seriously and professionally, Philippe Djangone-Bi said. The objectives of the inquiry had been to blame Côte d’Ivoire’s security forces and civilian authorities. As the report contained no clear and convincing evidence, the Government demanded that it be declared null and void and that a more credible commission be established.

Recalling that he had promised to discuss the content of the report as soon as it had been officially handed over to his Government, he said the report had been given to the Government on 5 May. It had been asked to submit its observations by 10 May. The Government’s request to submit its observations on 12 May had been granted, and the deadline was met.

On 14 May, the Security Council had met to hear the report by the interim High Commissioner for Human Rights, he explained. Council members had not had enough time to consider the observations. It was difficult for him to understand why the document had been distributed too late and in French, which was not the working language of several delegations. Nevertheless, Council members had taken note of the report and had demanded that the authors of the human rights violations, in particular those committed on 25 and 26 March, be punished.

He said the Security Council should not have accepted the report without giving proper attention to the observations of Côte d’Ivoire, a sovereign Member of the United Nations. It was the Government that had requested the Council to set up the international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in the country, starting with the beginning of the war on 19 September 2002.

After careful consideration of the report, the Government demanded that its recommendations, which were based on personal feelings and impressions, be declared null and void, and that a new international commission be established. He said the President of Côte d’Ivoire was at the disposal of the Council and would come to New York to defend his case.

The Ivorian authorities, he repeated, were not denying that people had been killed or that unfortunate mistakes had taken place. They just wanted to denounce the superficial and biased character of the report, the goal of which seemed to be to tarnish the reputation of the country’s highest military and civilian authorities.

Citing several examples, he said the report contained weaknesses both in terms of its form and content. Regarding formal rules, the document contained no reports, such as reports on hearings. Also, an inquiry of such importance could not be conducted from a hotel. For example, when the Minister of Home Security

had been informed of the alleged existence of a mass grave in Akouedo, he had visited the location, accompanied by police and international and national media, finding no such grave.

It was also the responsibility of the commissioner to personally check the veracity of the assertions made to him, he added. Mr. Ramcharan’s team had been satisfied with the assertions of their witnesses without any verification. Also missing were reports on forensic and ballistic examinations. With what legal means had the commission established a link between the corpses found in the different morgues and the defense and security forces? he asked.

The elementary rules of inquiry had not been at all respected, he said. There had been no respect of the principle of “contradictory presentation of facts”, nor had there been verification of allegations of killings, mass graves and disappearances. Commission members seemed to have taken for granted what so-called credible witnesses had told them.

Regarding the report’s substance, he said that while the commission’s mandate was to establish the facts, commissioners had made personal comments. For example, the commissioners had said that the march was to be placed in the framework of the electoral campaign going on in the country. As the country was still at war, no electoral campaign was currently being conducted. Also, foreigners had been described in the report as “excluded”. Foreigners were, in fact, well integrated, and whole sectors of economic activity were in their hands.

The report had also said that the protestors had been unarmed and had just wanted to defy the law, as the Young Patriots had done in December 2003 without consequences, he added. How then could the commissioners explain the killing of two policemen, one from a gunshot and the other from a sharp instrument? he asked.

The international community’s contribution to the resolution of the Ivorian crises could not succeed if it made no efforts to understand the country’s population in all its components. An attitude of absolute neutrality needed to be adopted.

What was the Government’s view on the number of protesters that had been killed? a correspondent asked. Responding, he said that, officially, there had been 37 dead. As the country was at war, many weapons could be found in the countryside. Taking advantage of the day of protest, anybody could have killed the protesters, just to accuse the authorities. The authorities were not stupid. They knew everyone was watching them. The adversaries had been interested in killing people.

Asked whether he was accusing the opposition of shooting people in order to blame the Government, he said that when the rebellion had taken over the north, prisoners had been freed and given weapons. Many were armed.

What would be different about the new investigation? a correspondent asked. Mr. Djangone-Bi said the new commission should follow a clear methodology. When given information, it must check that information. Commissioners had been told of two alleged mass graves. They had not visited the two locations, however. It would have taken five minutes to do that. The commissioners had been given every means, including transportation and security, to check such allegations for themselves.

There seemed to be some kind of plan, he said. Observations in French had been given to the Council only 24 hours before it met on the matter. A translation should have been made available some four to five days before the meeting. Also, Mr. Ramcharan had been alone in the Council. The principle of not taking for granted what was said had not been applied.

Asked how a panel could operate independently if the Government insisted on being present at all times, he said the important thing was to keep documents, so that the reader could understand how observations were made. The United Nations had made mistakes in the past. Look at the Rwanda situation.

To whom had he formally addressed the issue? a correspondent asked. He said a letter had been sent to the Security Council President and to the Secretary-General. He was awaiting their reaction. Neither the President nor the Secretary-General had answered the letters, which were dated 11 and 10 May. A protest had been filed on the way in which the report had been prepared and its leak to the press. Those who had leaked the document should be punished.

What was the motivation for anyone to destabilize the country? a correspondent asked.

He noted that he had not said that the United Nations was working to destabilize the country. Some forces were trying to use the United Nations to destabilize the democratically elected Government.

He added that the Security Council had been warned to be careful, that it was being used by those who had failed two years ago to reach their goals. Thousands of people had been killed. Why had a selective approach been adopted? His country was firmly drawing the Council’s attention to the matter. The Council also had to be careful in that it sometimes made declarations that did not bring about national reconciliation. Why were the people fighting for State stability being demonized? He denounced that biased approach.

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