About 10,000 people, most of them women and children, are sheltering from fierce fighting in a Catholic mission in the town of Duékoué, in the west African country’s west.
The appeal came as residents yesterday announced that forces behind UN-backed President-elect Alassane Ouattara had captured the country’s capital.
“The United Nations mandate in Côte d’Ivoire requires the peacekeepers to protect civilians at imminent threat of physical violence. They must act immediately to prevent further bloodshed,” said Amnesty’s Veronique Aubert.
“The UN camp is only about three km away from Duékoué and we are urging them to use all means necessary to protect civilians against the violence taking place on their own doorstep.”
The situation in the west of the country has been volatile since the November 2010 contested presidential elections when President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down. Rival candidate Alassane Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the poll but President Laurent Gbagbo refuses to recognise these results. Both sides have seriously violated people’s human rights during the fighting including unlawful killings, rape and sexual violence against women, says Amnesty.
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara took control of Duékoué and Daloa, two towns in the heart of the western cocoa belt on Monday. Electricity in Duékoué has been cut because of the fighting, locals told the campaign group, leaving people in the area without water. The fear now is that the people seeking refuge in the area along with tens of thousands of other Duékoué residents could be at risk of a repeat of January violence, in which 40 people were killed in fierce clashes and several women were victims of rape and sexual violence.
“The UN Security Council must make it clear to UN peacekeepers that they must act immediately and effectively to protect internally displaced people and other civilians at risk in the area, according to their mandate” said Ms Aubert.
“All parties to the conflict must adhere strictly to the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL). They must ensure their forces never target civilians, or launch indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. Commanders must ensure that their forces take necessary precautions to protect civilians and make clear that violations of IHL will not be tolerated," she added.