West African leaders called on the UN to take "all necessary
action" to protect Ivorian civilians caught in a political standoff
that has turned violent, but some others insist on an "African
A no-fly zone imposed on one African country, Libya, seems to be
inspiring African leaders to call for intervention in the
increasingly violent West African country of Ivory Coast.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has called
on the United Nations to "use all necessary means" to protect the
lives of civilians in Ivory Coast, which seems poised to return to
civil war because the incumbent leader, President Laurent Gbagbo,
refuses to step down from power after losing Nov. 28, 2010 elections
to his rival, Alassane Ouattara.
The African Union, the UN, and the nations of ECOWAS have
declared the elections free and fair and declared Mr. Ouattara the
winner, but armed forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo continue to control
much of the southern half of the country, including Abidjan, which
remains the country's power center despite no longer being the
capital and has become a violently divided city. More than 450
civilians have been killed, mainly by pro-Gbagbo forces and
militias, since the election and up to 1 million civilians have been
forced from their homes by the fighting, according to the UN.
Think you know where Ivory Coast is? Take our geography quiz.
In a statement issued by ECOWAS after its Thursday meeting, West
African leaders requested that the UN Security Council "strengthen
the mandate of the United Nations' Operation in [Ivory Coast],
enabling the Mission to use all necessary means to protect life and
property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr.
The ECOWAS communique stopped short of calling specifically for a
no-fly zone - like the one implemented in Libya that allows Western
forces to shoot down any Libyan military aircraft that take to the
skies to attack rebels or protestors - but the French government, in
its own draft proposal submitted Friday to the UN Security Council,
called for a ban on the use of heavy weapons such as artillery by
Ivorian forces. Human rights groups say that pro-Gbagbo forces have
shelled pro-Ouattara neighborhoods in Abidjan in recent weeks.
Mounting death toll
The growing attention to Ivory Coast is a welcome change for
human rights activists who have watched with frustration as the
death toll in Ivory Coast mounts, but international attention
remains focused on the conflicts in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen and the
aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Efforts by the African
Union to resolve the conflict, most recently in a fact-finding
mission by five African presidents in early March, have all failed.
Gbagbo still refuses to step down, as the AU has urged.
"The situation in Ivory Coast is falling into civil war," said
Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for
Human Rights, in a recent statement. "The international community
must act faster and stronger in order to ensure international
humanitarian law and human rights are fully respected, and to
prevent massive human rights violations. …