ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — As the world rallies behind the Libyan population, it is hard to understand why the Ivory Coast is just a footnote in international news and on the diplomatic agenda. In recent weeks in this critical West African country, hundreds of civilians have been killed, often in horrendous ways. New bodies turn up on the streets and in the morgues nearly every day with bullet wounds, slashed throats, and charred skin from being burned alive. As in Libya, a desperate regime clings to power and makes murderous threats against its own people. And, in both cases, peaceful protesters are being mowed down by machine guns.
In the case of Libya, it took the U.N. Security Council only days to pass one of its strongest resolutions in years, imposing severe sanctions on the country's leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and his enablers and referring the case to the International Criminal Court. The council took the ultimate step last week by authorizing military intervention, invoking its "responsibility to protect," a norm that grew out of the Rwandan genocide, requiring the international community to intervene when a country fails to protect its own citizens.
Not so in the case of Ivory Coast, where the council's response has been neutered by Russian and South African misgivings. The council has failed to send an unequivocal message to Laurent Gbagbo, who has clung to power despite having clearly lost the November presidential election. In the view of both the African Union and the United Nations, Gbagbo has overseen what probably amounts to crimes against humanity. His security forces and allied militias engage in brutal killings, forced disappearances, politically motivated rape, indiscriminant shelling, and torture in an often-organized campaign of terror against real or perceived supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of last year's election. Armed clashes have intensified around the country during the last two weeks; on March 17, at least 30 civilians were killed and 40 wounded when mortars fired by Gbagbo's forces exploded in a crowded marketplace in the Abobo neighborhood.
Yet unlike Qaddafi, Gbagbo and his inner circle have not been added to the U.N. sanctions list. The Security Council has not taken action to ensure that perpetrators of the crimes are held to account, and no "responsibility to protect" has been invoked.