Video>> UN imposes sanctions against Gbagbo
by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, March 30 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution demanding an end to violence against civilians and imposing sanctions on former President Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and three associates.
The late afternoon vote came amid increasing violence and as supporters of President Alassane Ouattara claimed control of the administrative capital of Yamassoukro, vowing to move on the commercial capital of Abidjan 230 kilometers to the south.
The measure, sponsored by France and Nigeria, called on Gbagbo to step down and condemned the recent escalation of violence throughout the country and said it could amount to crimes against humanity. However, it did not refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Gbagbo was defeated five months ago by Ouattara in a UN-certified election. Since then, up to 1 million people have either been displaced within the West Africa nation or fled to neighboring countries. Nearly 500 people have been reported killed.
After the vote on the draft resolution, Li Baodong, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, said at an open Security Council meeting that "We call on all the Ivorian parties to immediately cease the violence and armed confrontation and seek to settle their differences through dialogue and consultations."
"We believe in the peaceful settlement to the crisis which resulted from the elections in Cote d'Ivoire through peaceful means," he said. "We appreciate and support the efforts of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to achieve political settlement to the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire."
"The unthinkable is taking place before our very eyes," Ambassador U Joy Ogwu of Nigeria told the 15-nation Security Council after the vote.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had urged the Security Council to revisit the situation in Cote d'Ivoire in response to the rapidly deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situations in the country, she said.
The fragile peace established by the Ouagadougou accords was rapidly unraveling and, as the violence escalated, civilians were increasingly under attack with heavy weapons and explosives, the Abuja envoy said.
Those most at threat of indiscriminate attacks were women and children, she said. Such "heinous acts" violated international humanitarian law, and the fact that the violence was taking on "ethnic and sectarian overtones" was evidence of the risk that inaction would pose. The resolution reinforced the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) mandate and emphasized the need to protect civilians.
Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, the other nation sponsoring the draft resolution, recalled the measure was approved only days after being tabled last Friday.
"This sense of urgency is obvious since the confrontation is extending in Ivory Coast and the situation is worsening by the hour," he said, speaking to reporters outside the Council chamber after the session.
Cote d'Ivoire, Ivory Coast in English, is a former French colony.
"In a sense, this resolution is may be the last message that we wanted to send to Gbagbo which is very simple: Gbagbo must go," Araud said.
"It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war and maybe bloody violence in the streets of Abidjan." the Paris envoy further explained, the resolution imposes targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and associates.
"It is a political signal which is sent to this small group," he said. "There will be accountability. It is not only on a political crisis, there will be judicial follow-up if they don't give up. It recalls in this respect that the atrocities which are committed may constitute a crime against humanity and that the ICC may have to deal with this crime."
The ambassador of India, Hardeep Singh Puri, who counseled UNOCI to play fair and stick to the rules, told members in the Council chamber, "We have consistently held that both parties in Ivory Coast should exercise maximum restraint and respect the outcome of the elections."
"UN peacekeepers should draw their mandate from the relevant resolutions of the Security Council," he said. "They cannot be made instruments of regime change."
"Accordingly, the UNOCI should not become a party to the Ivorian political stalemate," the New Delhi envoy continued. "UNOCI should also not get involved in a civil war but carry out its mandate with impartiality and ensuring safety and security of peacekeepers and civilians."
Baso Sangqu, the ambassador of South Africa, believed that the African Union, ECOWAS and the United Nations should bolster the parties' efforts to find the best course to a political solution.
Indeed, solidifying democracy and good governance in Cote d'Ivoire was the only sustainable approach, he told Council members, noting the African Union had recently met to consider the issue, and he encouraged the AU Commission to follow through with its intention to appoint a High Representative with a mandate to help the country find a way out of the crisis.
The resolution strengthened UNOCI and called for a peaceful settlement of the issue, the Pretoria envoy said. He urged the Ivorian parties to comply with the text, and through their actions, work towards a political solution that took into account the wishes of all Ivorian people.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said, "Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed, and more diplomatic and economic isolation."
"Or Mr. Gbagbo and his followers can finally reject violence and respect the will of the Ivorian people. If this path is chosen, Ivorians can reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy that was once the admiration of all of Africa," she added.