Video shows former Gbagbo aides humiliated in Ivory Coast jail
A video showing several prominent supporters of former Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo being forced to do push-ups in jail by troops loyal to President Alassane Ouattara has surfaced on the Ivorian web, dealing a serious blow to the country’s reconciliation efforts.
The scene takes place in a prison in the north-eastern city of Bouna, some 600km away from the economic capital Abidjan. The amateur video shows seven members of Gabgbo’s close entourage being humiliated by their jailors. Among them are Pascal Affi N’Guessan, former prime minister and president of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI, Gbagbo’s now defunct party), and Michel Gbagbo, the ousted president’s eldest son. The footage was reportedly shot sometime between April 22, the day N’Guessan was arrested, and early June, after which one of the prisoners visible in the video (Gnamien Yao, one of Gbagbo’s former ministers) was released due to his deteriorating health.
After Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11, which ended a violent four-month stand-off between his supporters and those loyal to arch-rival Ouattara, several former FPI officials were placed under house arrest. Others, including the former president and his wife, Simone, were transferred to the north of the country, a Ouattara stronghold.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan was initially part of a small group of Gbagbo supporters who took refuge in an Abidjan hotel and requested the protection of the state, but he was later transferred to Bouna. According to the African Press Agency (APA), authorities accused him of speaking against Ouattara’s national reconciliation plan when interviewed by the media.
The man seen barking orders at the seven prisoners in the video is Mourou Ouattara, an officer of the FRCI, the armed forces loyal to the new president. At the start of the video the officer is heard haranguing the group:
“We’ll deal with you all, you’ll get 100 years [in prison]. I’d rather you die in jail, every one of you. We could hit you. But we’re not hitting anyone. Because we’re not judges. It’s not our role to judge you. […] You should hide, you should be very afraid […].
You paid for all sorts of weapons, hired mercenaries. You squandered all of Ivory Coast’s money […]. Now let the Ivorians live in peace […].
Go look inside the hospitals, inside the morgues. […] You’ll have to answer for that! Now do push-ups!
The prisoners obey. “Don’t just pretend to do them: do them!” hollers the officer, before concluding: “Enough. Get up.”
The timing of these videos could not have been worse for newly elected president Alassane Ouattara, who is calling for Ivorians to overcome bitter regional and ethnic divides. Earlier this month, Amnesty International voiced its “preoccupation” concerning the fate of some 50 Gbagbo supporters detained without trial. According to the human rights group, their treatment is in “blatant violation of international human rights norms”. Neither Amnesty International nor the Red Cross have been granted access to prisons in the north of the country, despite repeated requests. The only international group authorised to visit the prison in Bouna since early May was the UN peacekeeping force in the Ivory Coast, ONUCI. Its interim director for human rights, Guillaume Ngefa, told FRANCE 24 that he dispatched two patrols to the detention centre after hearing reports that prisoners were forced to do push-ups. He says the peacekeepers observed that certain prisoners were indeed “victims of abuse” and were detained in “inhuman and degrading” conditions.
Abidjan’s state prosecutor, Simplice Koffi Kouadio, auditioned the members of Gbagbo’s entourage held in Bouna in June as part of a continuing investigation into the country’s post-electoral violence. Contacted by FRANCE 24, he refused to comment on what he saw in the prisons but insisted that the terms “detention” and “prisoners” were improper in this case. Gbagbo aides and supporters, he said, were “placed under house arrest” until Ivorian judges decide on the charges that are to be brought against them.
“Such a lengthy imprisonment, without any form of official charges or trial date, gives the impression of a victor’s justice”
This footage completely discredits Alassane Ouattara’s calls for national reconciliation. The entire population is shocked by these videos and Ouattara’s supporters aren’t minimising the problem, on the contrary. Of course, you can say that push-ups aren’t torture. But it is still cruel and degrading treatment. [According to article 1 of the UN convention against torture, the term torture designates “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as (…) punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person (…)”]. And it’s probably safe to say that the video only shows the tip of the iceberg.
I spoke with several local rights groups and bi-partisan pro-democracy activists, and none of them were granted access to detention centres in the north of the country. The fact that several former government figures are detained in the north makes many people here say that the region has become a prison camp for Gbagbo supporters. Northern Ivory Coast is considered the stronghold of Ouattara’s aggressively anti-Gbagbo Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro. The fact that incidents like this are going on tarnishes the government’s reunification efforts.
The situation in the Ivory Coast will only return to normal when members of both camps who are responsible for violent acts are brought to justice, in full compliance with international human rights law. Right now, such a lengthy imprisonment of former Gagbo aides, without any form of official charges or trial date, gives the impression of a victor’s justice.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.