The Ivory Coast massacre

The civil war no one was paying much attention to over these past several months finally made it to the public radar of some world media because it’s reached critical mass….murder.

This has gone too far for too long and with too little intervention. I’ve been following it for months, and lately especially on BBC World Service on satellite radio, along with other crises of the moment. This BBC report spells out many details, but it doesn’t reveal the scope of the massacre.

This CNA piece does.

While cease-fire negotiations are underway in the Ivory Coast, Vatican charity Caritas Internationalis condemned violence in the country that killed 1,000 civilians over the span of three days.

In recent days, the violence has come from both sides, and just surviving the terror is the best locals can hope for right now.

Bishop Gaspard Béby Gnéba of Man, told the Vatican-based Fides news agency that in addition to the deaths, local buildings–including Church facilities such as parishes, schools and health clinics–have been looted and destroyed.

Conflict had also moved to the economic capital of Abidjan, as Ouattara–backed by U.N. forces– launched an aggressive effort to seize control of local towns.

“The situation is calm in the sense that the shootings have reduced, but it is a disquieting calm, not at all reassuring. It is very tense,” Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan told Fides.

Archbishop Kutwa expressed shock over the level of assault conducted by forces aligned with Ouattara.

“The people are barricaded in their homes. In some districts they have no water, electricity or food … It is an indescribable tragedy.”

God help them. And Caritas.

No room for another humanitarian crisis

Maybe news print television news programs only have so much space to fill with what (they think) we need to know. But the new communications media cover such boundless terrain, there’s no excuse but apathy or lack of depth in their news staffs for the lack of coverage of some (many) geopolitical hotspots where people are living with existential crises.

Like the Ivory Coast, for crying out loud.

More than a million people have fled their homes in the Ivory Coast, a nation that appears to be slowly sliding towards a full-scale civil war. This is the dramatic situation facing the people of this West African country and was the subject of an appeal on Wednesday by Pope Benedict who called for urgent dialogue between the opposing sides. With Libya and Japan hogging the headlines, little attention is being paid by the international media to this under-reported and worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast caused by the massive displacement of people, many of whom have crossed the border into neighbouring Liberia. Susy Hodges spoke to Antonio Cabral, the regional manager for west Africa for the catholic development agency, CAFOD, who has just spent 10 days in the Ivory Coast /Liberia border area. Cabral says the situation is very grave and not getting the attention or funding that it deserves:

“The situation is very serious because basically what we are witnessing is civil war in Ivory Coast and people are fleeing… with nothing, basically running for their lives and so the needs are huge.”

Asked whether he believes the crisis has been rather forgotten about, Cabral replies: “I’m afraid so, the media doesn’t seem to have space for a big humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast, maybe because there is no oil or maybe the other 2 crises (in Libya and Japan) have got all the headlines but it is a huge crisis and it’s very important that we raise the profile on this … because people are suffering and are in need of our help.”

Wherever else the media go, they probably don’t go here, one of the best places people can help people.

UPDATE: This is getting worse.

Christmas on the Ivory Coast

During our festive season busy with parties and shopping and decorations and family gatherings, news headlines can easily escape notice. Especially when they’re about far away and practically unknown countries with their never-ending political unrest. Trouble is, behind the headlines are a lot of human individuals. And a personal appeal from one of them crossed my desk…

He’s a seminarian friend of my son, a young man he met in the Middle East when they crossed paths a couple of years ago studying in Bethlehem. Now they’re each back at home, but corresponding. The seminarian wrote:

I invite you to pray for peace in my country. You know actually Cote d’Ivoire my country has two presidents, two governments, which is really unbelievable and unaccpetable for the population.
I expect to go to visit my family  in my country for Christmas this week end .
Pray for me, and pray for peace in Cote d’Ivoire.

That was at the beginning of the violence in his country.

Street protests in Ivory Coast against incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have turned violent with at least four dead. Witnesses said heavy artillery fire has been heard near the base of president-elect Alassane Ouattara, who called for the street demonstrations.

Gbagbo won’t relinquish power to the democratically elected Ouattara. It only grew worse.

At least nine unarmed protesters in Ivory Coast’s largest city were shot and killed by security forces Thursday, eyewitnesses told Amnesty International.

The violence erupted as troops loyal to the incumbent president and supporters of his challenger confronted each other on the tense and chaotic streets of Abidjan.

It grew so grave so rapidly, the US threatened sanctions.

The U.S. is prepared to impose “targeted sanctions” on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, the State Department said Friday.

“From the United States’ standpoint, time is running out.” spokesman P.J. Crowley said at a briefing.

The sanctions, according to Crowley, would target “President Gbagbo, his immediate family and his inner circle, should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.”

Violence has broken out between supporters of Gbagbo and of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally supported winner of the November runoff. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Gbagbo’s efforts to maintain his office “cannot be allowed to stand.”

However, Gbagbo wouldn’t budge.

A spokeswoman for incumbent Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, says Mr. Gbagbo will not step down, despite violent street protests and mounting international pressure for him to cede power to U.N.-endorsed election winner, Alassane Ouattara….

The situation in Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate…The political showdown looks dangerously close to reigniting a 2002-2003 civil war that split the country between a rebel-held north and a government-held south.

Both men have set up rival governments and have the support of rival armed forces.

And now Gbagbo is forcing a showdown with the United Nations.

Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo on Saturday ordered U.N. and French troops to leave the country, but U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon rejected the demand, saying his blue helmets would not budge.

Both the United Nations and the former colonial power, France, have urged Gbagbo to concede defeat in a November 28 poll, which was meant to heal the wounds of the West African state’s 2002-03 civil war but has instead reopened them.

This is remote interational news to a lot of Americans, and probably a lot of other nationals on other continents as well. But human rights threatened anywhere affects human rights everywhere, a turn on a statement Dr. Martin Luther King asserted many times.

My son’s young seminarian friend is trying to visit his family this week for Christmas in the Ivory Coast. He is worried and asks for prayers. Please remember them all.