In the second of a three part series, we share with you three more countries that we are watching where there is a significant potential for widespread and systematic violence against civilians.

Ivory Coast

In December 2010, following the presidential election, widespread fighting broke out in the Ivory Coast as forces loyal to the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, clashed with the supporters of the president-elect, Alassane Ouattara. Thousands of civilians were killed during the conflict, including more than 1,000 during a massacre in the town of Duékoué. Over a million were displaced.

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Regarding the incident, the United Nations said that supporters from both sides bear responsibility. France and the United Nations (UN) launched an intervention effort to protect civilians and restore order. In April 11, Gbagbo was arrested and is currently being held in The Hague, but some skirmishes between rival forces have continued.

As the country struggles to emerge from a civil war, civilians are susceptible to cross-border raids carried out by mercenaries and militiamen who fought for Gbagbo and have a history of committing atrocities. At least seven people were killed and dozens injured when angry mobs set fire to a UN protected camp for civilians forced from their homes in western Ivory Coast, underscoring tensions in the zone.

It is also reported that militias loyal to former president are recruiting child soldiers in Liberia to launch attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers. Children as young as 14 are being groomed in training camps and used as scouts in increasingly deadly attacks.

The potential for more attacks is real due to weak state authorities, the presence of large numbers of weapons and combatants, and ongoing competition for resources and power.

Libya

Forces opposing Muammar Qaddafi sit on top of a tank in March 2011 (Credit: Nasser Nouri)

Despite the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the end of the recent civil war, Libya still faces significant security and justice challenges. As we wrote earlier:

Security remains a significant issue that the incoming government must address. The [National Transitional Council’s] failure to consolidate the various militias — operating in environment proliferated by weapons — into a coherent national security apparatus has hindered stability throughout the country. In the past six-months, the southeast and western parts of the country in particular have seen instances of tribal violence targeting ethnic groups loyal to the late Qaddafi, which have left more than 100 people dead and hundreds others injured. It is critically important that the Libyan people have a police and military that will defend them and safeguard their rights.

The specter of tribal warfare hangs heavily as tribes that fought alongside the deposed Muammar Qaddafi, particularly the Tawergha community, continue to be targeted. In a report released in March, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Libya concluded that anti-Qaddafi militias committed serious violations against the Tawergha and other communities.

Concerning Libya’s criminal justice sector, there are troubling reports of human rights abuses occurring at detention facilities. Human Rights Watch says that roughly 5,000 have been unlawful detained in prison facilities run by militias where mistreatment sometimes results in death. Despite being obligated by the UN Security Council Resolution 1970 to turn International Criminal Court (ICC) wanted criminals over to The Hague, it is reported that Libyan authorities will be trying Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, in the country. The relationship between the international court and Libyan authorities soured after four staff members from the ICC were held for four weeks on suspicion of spying. They were released in early July, but the incident intensified concerns from rights groups that Saif may not face a fair trial in Libya.

Unless authorities manage to control armed groups, strengthen national security apparatus and hold militias responsible for committing human rights abuses against civilians and detainees, we can expect to see continued insecurity in the months ahead.

Mali

Rebels in northern Mali (Credit: Amin2511/Flickr)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently described the situation in Mali as “deeply troubling.” Fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels resumed in January in the northern part of the country. The resulting insecurity and proliferation of armed groups in the north have caused 250,000 to flee to neighboring countries.

In July, the Malian government asked the ICC to investigate reports that armed groups in the north are committing serious human rights violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include but are not limited to summary executions of civilians, rape, recruitment of child soldiers and torture. Malian security forces are also accused of gross violations in the north. According to Amnesty International, security forces have carried out extrajudicial executions of Tuareg civilians, the indiscriminate shelling of a Tuareg nomadic camp and the killing of livestock that the nomadic Tuareg population relies on for survival.

However, human rights violations are not only confined to the north of the country. Following a coup d’état in March, there has been a rise in attacks against political leaders, journalists and others who expressed dissent. There are reports of torture, extra-judicial executions and forced disappearances occurring in the south.

The alleged commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by armed groups in the north and security forces in the south, coupled with an atmosphere of political instability, make Mali a country to monitor closely. More than 435,000 people have been displaced, as the country faces a complex humanitarian emergency due to conflict and food insecurity, according to a recent UN report.

In case you missed it, check out part I in this series, and stay tuned for part III.

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Nine Crises We’re Watching: Part I

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August 30, 2012