French-backed forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara captured former head of state Laurent Gbagbo on Monday in the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), a move that could put an end to the five-month standoff in the deeply divided West African country.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast confirmed that Gbagbo had “surrendered” to Ouattara’s forces, adding that they were holding him in an apartment in the Golf Hotel in the capital of Abidjan. Ouattara’s headquarters have been based in Abidjan under the U.N. protection since the November election.
Gbagbo’s capture comes after U.N. peacekeepers, led by French forces, launched an operation Sunday aimed at curbing forces loyal to Gbagbo that had been carrying out attacks across the capital since last Wednesday.
U.N. peacekeeping Undersecretary-General Alain Le Roy warned that Gbagbo’s surrender was a progressive step, but “the crisis is not over yet” in the strife-torn country where a million people had been displaced in the post-election violence, according to U.N. statements.
Upon news of the arrest, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging that Gbagbo be held accountable for crimes against humanity and other atrocities that he has been “credibly implicated in,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in the statement. HRW adds that Gbagbo should not be granted a “golden exile” in some country where he can avoid national or international prosecution.
During a press conference today, Ivan Šimonovic, assistant secretary-general of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was important to put an end to the impunity and retaliation cycle that had taken root in the West African country, and that concrete measures should have been put in effect following the 2002 civil war, which would have addressed the issue of accountability, thus providing stability for the country.
“If, after the conflict in 2002, we had established truth and ensured accountability, perhaps we could have avoided what has happened now,” he said.
He went on to say that he was concerned about the security vacuum in the country and wanted to find a way to prevent retaliation. He said that Ouattara had called on all sides to refrain from such actions, with the president-elect announcing that drastic punishment would be in store for anyone who engaged in retaliation, regardless of political affiliation.
Šimonovic said that Ouattara had expressed interest in receiving support and assistance from the U.N. in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission in order to help break the ever-present cycle of impunity and retaliation that has gripped the country.
Ivory Coast has been rocked by violence since last November’s election, in which Ouattara defeated incumbent president Gbagbo, but Gbagbo refused to step down.